Robert J. Maier

Maier_Robert

 

Nickel binding proteins are studied in pathogenic bacteria. The sequestration and storage of metals, and the maturation and roles of metal-containing enzymes by bacterial pathogens are of keen interest. The bacterial pathogens under study include the persistent gastric pathogen Helicobacter pylori, other Helicobacters that colonize liver and colon environments, and some enteric diarrheal pathogens (e.g. Salmonella/Shigella). For example, all these bacteria sequester the metal nickel for use in nickel-containing enzymes, yet the mechanism of nickel storage and subsequent nickel allocation and insertion into the nickel enzyme sinks (hydrogenases and ureases) are not understood. All of these bacteria regulate the maturation of nickel-containing proteins via Ni-sensing regulators,which are also studied in the Maier lab from approaches ranging from physical biochemistry to macromolecule (DNA-protein) interactions. Mutant strain analysis combined with pure protein studies and animal infection models are all used to study nickel containing (and NiFe-containing) proteins in these pathogens. A key growth substrate used by all these pathogens in animals is molecular hydrogen produced by the host flora; the pathogens ability to use this small but highly energetic substrate is due to a nickel-containing H2-splitting enzyme. The nickel-dependent expression and maturation of this enzyme is studied, as well as unique ways (i.e. nickel chelation) to inhibit its activity within host animals. Another related area of research involves stress-combating proteins used by Helicobacter pylori to colonize the gastric mucosa of humans. Such colonization leads to a variety of inflammatory gastric diseases. The persistence of the Helicobacter pathogen in withstanding host defense mechanisms over a period of years or decades results in the most severe gastric diseases, including even gastric carcinomas. Many of the oxidative stress combating enzymes require iron as a key element of the protein. Dr. Maier's goal is to identify and then characterize the oxidative stress resistance proteins that enable the gastric pathogen to persistently survive the harsh host environment.

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