The immune system is responsible for the tremendous task of fighting a wide range of pathogens to which we are constantly exposed. This system can be broadly subdivided into innate and adaptive arms, which act in conjunction to protect the host. The innate immune system exists in both vertebrate and invertebrate organisms and represents the first barrier against microbial invasion. This arm of the immune system rapidly eliminates the vast majority of microorganisms that we daily encounter and is responsible for limiting early pathogen replication and imprinting the profile of the subsequent adaptive response. The adaptive immune response is a more sophisticated feature, found only in vertebrate animals, involving a broad repertoire of genetically rearranged receptors that specifically recognize microbial antigens. The hallmark of the adaptive response is the generation of a potent and long-lasting protection specifically directed against the invading pathogen. Despite highly evolved immune responses, pathogens have co-evolved ways to evade or subvert the immune system to favor their replication and transmission. Therefore, despite major scientific and medical efforts, infectious diseases remain among the leading causes of mortality and disability worldwide. Dramatic examples of microbial immune-evasion are chronic viral infections such as Human Immunodeficiency virus, Hepatitis B and C viruses, which currently infect about 500 million people around the world.
Our laboratory studies cellular and molecular aspects of immune responses during acute and chronic viral infections to determine general principles of antiviral immunity, immune-evasion, persistence and pathogenesis. We use a combination of both standard and cutting-edge molecular approaches as well as functional assays with recombinant viruses and genetically modified hosts. Both hypothesis driven and unbiased strategies allow us to unravel novel aspects of host-virus interactions in mouse models of natural viral infections that we aim at translating to humans. The ultimate goal is to generate fundamental knowledge on immune-regulation that could help modulating immune responses to prevent or treat infectious diseases and may have implications for other immune-related illnesses.
Elina Zuniga received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the National University of Cordoba, Argentina. She conducted postdoctoral research at The Scripps Research Institute where she held two post-doctoral fellowships from Antorchas Foundation and PEW Charitable Trust, respectively. After joining UCSD in 2007 she has received a Hellman Foundation Scholar Award, The Vilcek Finalist Prize for Creative Promise, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Scholar Award and the American Cancer Society Scholar Award (a lifetime honor).