Research in the Perlmutter Laboratory (Drs. Norma and Craig Gerard) has focused extensively on G protein coupled receptors that play an essential role in activating white blood cells. Many of these receptors and ligands – the molecules that bind to them- have come to be appreciated as a bridge between innate and acquired immunity, as well as being vital to the acute inflammatory response. The bulk of the group’s focus over the last decade has been on elucidating the mechanistic actions of the receptors for the complement anaphylatoxins, C5a and C3a – molecules that mediate inflammatory responses – as well as those for the chemokine superfamily – chemical messengers of the immune system. Their work has moved from cloning the receptors to disrupting receptor genes in order to probe the role of these receptors in disease models in vivo. The lab was the first to show how one pathogen, invasive pneumococcus, exploits the receptor for platelet activating factor to gain access to cells. That discovery was followed by collaborative work defining the chemokine receptors involved as HIV-1 co-receptors.
The specific focus of Norma Gerard’s research leans toward understanding the molecular mechanisms of leukocyte trafficking (the way in which white blood cells mobilize in routine surveillance and during an inflammatory response). Her group is particularly interested in the family of G protein coupled receptors that direct the migration of leukocytes, both at baseline and in response to injury. Such receptors include those for the complement anaphylatoxins, C5a and C3a; neurokinins, including substance P and neurokininA; lipids, including platelet activating factor and leukotrienes; and other peptides, including chemokines and bacterial chemotactic peptides. She uses multiple complementary approaches including genetic models in the mouse, transfection of cultured cells and biochemical analyses, to understand the complex balance between host defense and untoward inflammation that is mediated by these ligands and receptors.
About Norma Gerard
Norma Gerard received her PhD from the University of Connecticut. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California at San Diego and Scripps Research Institute.