The major goal of the Park Laboratory is to understand how components of the extracellular matrix (ECM) modulate the pathogenesis of infectious and non-infectious inflammatory diseases, with a particular focus on the role of proteoglycans, glycosaminoglycans, and elastin in these processes. Historically known for its structural roles, the ECM is now known to regulate many cellular and physiological processes.

Dr. Park and his colleagues have found that several major bacterial pathogens (e.g., Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae) subvert the syndecan family of cell surface heparan sulfate proteoglycans to enhance their virulence in vivo. These bacterial pathogens stimulate syndecan shedding from the cell surface through specific virulence factors. Syndecan ectodomains bind to and inhibit several host defense factors and immune cells, modulating the host environment to favor pathogenesis over eradication. These findings indicate that exploitation of syndecan shedding is an important pathogenic mechanism and suggest possible approaches to therapy.

The Park Laboratory has also found that syndecan shedding is activated in non-infectious inflammatory diseases. Here, syndecan ectodomains modulate inflammatory mediators and cells to attenuate inflammatory tissue injury. In sum, these data suggest that syndecan shedding is an important mechanism that assures the correct and adequate functioning of inflammation, but that certain pathogens have adapted or evolved to exploit this mechanism to promote their pathogenesis. On-going projects are focused on defining the molecular and cellular details of these mechanisms.


Pyong Woo Park received a PhD from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and completed a fellowship at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.