Work in my lab focuses on how environmental factors influence processes in the body such as tissue repair and differentiation and immune cell functions. Malfunction in these processes can aid the development of inflammatory diseases and cancer and we want to find out how environmental factors are involved in this.
We focus on a DNA binding protein (termed transcription factor) called the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR), which acts as an environmental sensor and regulates a wide range of genes. AHR is particularly important at barrier sites of the body such as the skin, the lung and the gut which have most exposure to chemicals that can bind to AHR. They can be produced in the body or derived from external sources like man-made pollutants. While exposure to ligands produced inside the body promotes AHR functions that are beneficial to the organism, exposure to externally produced ligands has detrimental effects.
We are working to identify functions of genes regulated by AHR and the effects that changes in environmental triggers have on these functions. This will help us to decipher how pollutants disrupt processes in the body like tissue repair and cell differentiation.