Dr. Rebecca Hall PhD
MRC Career Development Award Fellow
The Hall lab (hall-fungal-research.co.uk) is interested in all things fungal. The current focus of the lab is in addressing how pathogenic fungi sense and respond to the plethora of environmental parameters they are exposed to during colonization and infection. Our favorite pathogenic fungus is Candida albicans, but we also work with Candida glabrata and Cryptococcus spp, and in the future we would also like to work with Aspergillus spp.
Just like us, microorganisms constantly monitor their surroundings and mount a specific response to changes in their external environment. This is particularly important for pathogenic microbes that colonise diverse environments in the human body. Fungi are capable of colonising and subsequently infecting many different human body sites including the skin, nails, lungs, brain, organs and oral, genital and gastrointestinal tracts. Each of these sites has its own environmental characteristics and local defence mechanisms to which the fungus must be able to adapt to, and resist, in order to maintain its position in the niche. Currently, we only have basic knowledge of what these environments are, how they are sensed, and how the fungus uses these environmental signals to drive disease progression. However, what we do know, from in vitro studies dissecting the response of single signals, is that many host-derived signals including serum, pH and temperature drive fungal virulence, while microbe-derived signals dampen these characteristics. In the niche, the fungal pathogen will be simultaneously exposed to both host and microbe-derived signals. Therefore, understanding how the dual response to such opposing traits is orchestrated is an essential goal for the host-pathogen interaction field. We aim to address this fundamental gap in our knowledge of host-pathogen interactions by using one of the major human fungal pathogens, Candida albicans, as a model for fungal infection. We use fundamental pathogen cell biology in order to understand the behaviour of C. albicans in diverse host niches. Specifically, we address how this successful opportunistic fungal pathogen perceives multiple environmental signals encountered during infection, how these combinatorial environments affect the pathobiology of the fungus and how in turn the fungus uses these environments to hide and escape from our immune system.
Poly-microbial interactions and disease
During infection, fungi come into contact with a variety of microorganisms. These may be microbes that comprise the natural microbiota of the niche, or opportunistic pathogens. Bacteria communicate with each other through a cell density dependent process known as quorum sensing. C. albicans was the first eukaryote identified to produce and respond to quorum sensing molecules. Since the identification of fungal quorum sensing, many bacterial quorum-sensing molecules have been shown to impact of fungal pathogenicity. In addition to quorum sensing molecules, poly-microbial interactions include direct cell-cell contact between different organisms. For example, the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa directly binds to and kills hyphae of C. albicans. The Hall lab has a keen interest in identifying the mechanism(s) of fungal quorum sensing, the role of quorum sensing in disease, and the poly-microbial interactions that occur during infection.
Dr. Rebecca Hall is a current member of the British Mycological Society (BMS) Education and Outreach committee, a member of the Microbiology Society (MS) Eukaryotic Division, a member of Institute of Microbiology and Infection Management Board, and an editor for PLOS ONE.
Samantaray S., Correia JN, Garelnabi M, Voelz K, May RC, and Hall RA (2016) Novel cell-based in vitro screen to identify small molecule inhibitors against intracellular replication of Cryptococcus neoformans in macrophages. International J. Antimicrob. Agents 48, 69-77.
Dixon EF and Hall RA (2015) Noisy neighbourhoods: quorum sensing in fungal-polymicrobial infections. Cell Microbiol. 17, 1431-41
Hall RA (2015) Dressed to impress: impact of environmental adaptation on the C. albicans cell wall. Mol. Micro 97, 7-17.
School of Biosciences
University of Birmingham