The overall goal of this five-year proposal for a Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award is for me to develop into a productive, independent academic investigator in the field of reproductive immunology. I completed an MD and a PhD in the field of basic cellular immunology, and I now seek to apply my interest in dysregulated immunity to the public health threat of adverse fetal and maternal outcomes of pregnancy. I graduated from the American Board of Pediatrics Accelerated Research Pathway for Residency in General, and I completed my Fellowship in Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at Children?s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the University of Pennsylvania (Penn). I joined the faculty of CHOP and Penn as an Attending Physician and Instructor in the Division of Neonatology. My mentor for this award, Dr. Edward M. Behrens, is a physician- scientist with a longstanding track record of scientific innovation and providing exceptional training to mentees at all levels. As an internationally-recognized expert in innate immunity and inflammatory disorders, Dr. Behrens?s work complements my own, and we are thus poised for productivity. My scientific advisory committee includes scientists and physician-scientists with collective expertise in all aspects of the proposed work, from placental biology to next-generation sequencing. I am also extremely fortunate to have the unreserved support of CHOP and Penn, whose combined resources are unmatched. Scientifically, this proposal focuses on roles for novel macrophages that I discovered under the guidance of Dr. Behrens, called CD122+Macs, in normal and threatened pregnancy. Enriched in the uterus in mice and humans, CD122+Macs express high levels of CD122, the hallmark of responsiveness to interleukin-15 (IL-15). These novel Macs signal and function when exposed to IL-15, surprising because killer lymphocytes like natural killer (NK) cells, not Macs, are the classical targets of IL-15. Disrupted homeostasis of IL-15 is associated with numerous adverse outcomes of pregnancy, including preeclampsia and abnormal feto-placental growth but through unknown mechanisms. Based on prior literature and my preliminary data, my central hypothesis is: IL- 15 exerts its influence over outcomes of pregnancy not only by maintaining NK cells but also by modulating the inflammatory properties of novel CD122+Macs.
The aims of this proposal will establish: 1) Mechanisms by which CD122+Macs respond biochemically and transcriptionally to IL-15 and 2) IL-15-dependent requirements for CD122+Macs in pregnancy in vivo. This proposal will close major gaps in knowledge regarding the mechanism by which IL-15 acts on a novel cellular target to ensure maternal and fetal health during pregnancy. In accordance with my career development objective to become a field leader in reproductive immunology, my scientific proposal complements my current proficiency in cellular immunologic methods with training in advanced reproductive biology and bioinformatic methods.
Immune cells in a mother?s uterus help the embryo receive the blood and nutrients it needs to grow. When a fetus fails to grow in the womb, both mother and fetus are in danger of death or major disability. This project will provide important information about how specialized immune cells called macrophages help the uterus to nurture the fetus throughout pregnancy, keeping mother and fetus safe from harm.