Vibrio cholerae remains a major threat to world health in that cholera epidemics have ravaged Yemin, Africa, South Asia, and Haiti in only the last decade. This bacterial organism is also a powerful model system for understanding microbial pathogenesis and has ushered many new technologies for analyzing pathogen-host interactions. This proposal seeks a deeper understanding of how this mucosal pathogen interacts with commensal organisms, viral agents, and the host immune system. AI-018045 has previously supported V. cholerae research that has led to the discovery and characterization of cGAMP, a cyclic dinucleotide (CDN) and isomer of the product produced by cGAS (an immune sensor of clinical importance to autoimmunity and cancer). V. cholerae was used to engineer a form of the human cGAS enzyme that is locked in a DNA-bound, active conformation and this allowed its crystal structure to be solved facilitating anti-cGAS drug discovery. Previously, killing by the V. cholerae Type VI secretion system (T6SS) of commensal E. coli strains was found to induce an innate immune response that triggered early V. cholerae virulence gene expression in the host. The present proposal now offers creative experimental aproaches aimed at new challenges that have emerged from these discoveries including 1) understanding the biological activities of cGAMP made by the V. cholerae enzyme DncV including phage resistance and whether other novel cyclic and linear oligonucleotides synthesized by DncV-related enzymes discovered in the genomes of thousands of bacterial isolates have immunomodulatory activity and anti-viral function, 2) testing the hypothesis that cholera toxin (CT) production drives transmission through diarrhea or by reprogramming host metabolism so V. cholerae can take advantage of a CT-induced niche that is rich in hemin and long chain fatty acids, 3) understanding host innate immune activation that depends on the attack of commensal organisms by the T6SS of V. cholerae and 4) continuing the development of live attenuated probiotic-like vaccine HaitiV and Whole Cell Conjugate (WCC) vaccine technologies. State-of-the-art genetic, biochemical and cell biological approaches will be employed to address these topics which offer answers to questions such as i) what are the most important T6SS effectors and host pathways involved in T6SS commensal killing and induction of intestinal colonization by V. cholerae HaitiV? ii) Would commensal, pathogenic, or attenuated organisms loaded with with CDNs enhance T6SS-dependent host innate signaling and intestinal colonization of HaitiV? iii) Can a CRISPRi gene silencing technology developed for V. cholerae be used to enhance production of outer membrane vesicles which might deliver cGAMP or bacterial effector proteins into host cells? This proposal offers scientific impact that extends well beyond addressing cholera as a threat, and is likely to yield new discoveries that will reshape microbiological research in important areas of unmet medical need including antimicrobial vaccinology, immunomodulation, the host response to commensal microbiota, adjuvant research and drug development.

Public Health Relevance

This proposal builds on the discovery that a cyclic dinucleotide called cGAMP discovered in Vibrio cholerae (the agent responsible for the disease cholera) is only one of potentially many more novel small RNAs that likely play important roles in bacterial virulence and modulating the host immune system. State-of-the-art genetic and biochemical approaches will also address how a toxin promotes disease transmission and how to improve new vaccine technologies. The proposed research could significantly impact fields well beyond cholera including immunomodulation, viral resistance, and the role of the commensal microbiota in health and disease.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) Award (R37)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Bacterial Pathogenesis Study Section (BACP)
Program Officer
Hall, Robert H
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Harvard Medical School
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Del Tordello, Elena; Danilchanka, Olga; McCluskey, Andrew J et al. (2016) Type VI secretion system sheaths as nanoparticles for antigen display. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 113:3042-7
Fu, Yang; Mekalanos, John J (2014) Infant Rabbit Colonization Competition Assays. Bio Protoc 4:
Ho, Brian T; Dong, Tao G; Mekalanos, John J (2014) A view to a kill: the bacterial type VI secretion system. Cell Host Microbe 15:9-21
Vercruysse, Maarten; Köhrer, Caroline; Davies, Bryan W et al. (2014) The highly conserved bacterial RNase YbeY is essential in Vibrio cholerae, playing a critical role in virulence, stress regulation, and RNA processing. PLoS Pathog 10:e1004175
Basler, Marek; Ho, Brian T; Mekalanos, John J (2013) Tit-for-tat: type VI secretion system counterattack during bacterial cell-cell interactions. Cell 152:884-94
Ho, Brian T; Basler, Marek; Mekalanos, John J (2013) Type 6 secretion system-mediated immunity to type 4 secretion system-mediated gene transfer. Science 342:250-3
Fu, Yang; Waldor, Matthew K; Mekalanos, John J (2013) Tn-Seq analysis of Vibrio cholerae intestinal colonization reveals a role for T6SS-mediated antibacterial activity in the host. Cell Host Microbe 14:652-63
Danilchanka, Olga; Mekalanos, John J (2013) Cyclic dinucleotides and the innate immune response. Cell 154:962-970
Basler, M; Mekalanos, J J (2012) Type 6 secretion dynamics within and between bacterial cells. Science 337:815
Bogard, Ryan W; Davies, Bryan W; Mekalanos, John J (2012) MetR-regulated Vibrio cholerae metabolism is required for virulence. MBio 3:

Showing the most recent 10 out of 23 publications