Aisha Lee

Program: Immunology

Current advisor: Haina Shin, PhD

Undergraduate university: Harvard University

Research summary
The main focus of my research is understanding mechanisms of mucosal immune protection in the female genital tract during sexually transmitted infections. In one project, I sought to identify differences in the host immune response to HSV-1 vs HSV-2 genital infection that cause such distinct outcomes. While HSV-1 and HSV-2 both cause genital herpes, patients who have HSV-2 genital herpes experience significantly higher frequency of disease recurrence and transmission compared to patients who have disease caused by HSV-1. Previous studies linked frequency of viral reactivation to reservoirs of latent virus in the peripheral nervous system (PNS) that were consistently larger after HSV-2 genital infection relative to HSV-1. However, it was unknown whether these distinct outcomes were due to intrinsic viral properties or the host response. To explore the contribution of the latter, our lab utilizes murine models of HSV-1 vs HSV-2 vaginal infection. From these comparative studies, we determined that HSV-1 induces an accelerated adaptive immune response relative to HSV-2, better protecting the PNS from viral invasion. Increased neuroprotection was linked to an early burst of NK cell dependent IFNg that was secreted in the vagina one day after HSV-1 but not HSV-2 infection. In a second project, I also revealed a new role for this earlier NK cell activation in limiting genital inflammation and tissue damage and promoting wound healing during HSV-1 infection.

Graduate publications


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