Dr. Utpal Pal
Biology and Prevention of Tick-borne infections (Lyme Disease & Anaplasmosis) and Leptospirosis
1988: Masters (MSc) Degree in Zoology, University of Calcutta, India
1993: Doctoral (Ph.D.) Degree in Zoology, University of Calcutta, India
2019 - present: Elected Fellow, American Academy of Microbiology
2019 - 2025: Regular Member, NIH Bacterial Pathogenesis Study Section (BACP), 2019-2025
2018 - present: Project Director, NIH-funded Multi-institutional Research Program on Tick Immunity
2018: Member, HHS Subcommittee on Vaccine and Therapeutics; Tick-Borne Disease Working Group, The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
2016 - present: Professor, Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Maryland
2016 - 2019: Graduate Program Director, Veterinary Medical Sciences
2011 - 2016: Associate Professor, Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Maryland
2006 - 2011: Assistant Professor (Tenure-Track), Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Maryland
2002 - 2006: Associate Research Scientist, Dept. of Internal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine.
1998 - 2001: Postdoctoral Fellow, Dept. of Internal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine
For more than twenty years, Dr. Pal has been studying tick-borne zoonoses, primarily Lyme disease, which is a widespread vector-borne infection and a highly-warranted area of research. The atypical bacteria responsible for the disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) are highly prevalent in the Northern Hemisphere, as are the tick vectors that transmit the disease to mammalian hosts, including humans. Despite an increase in public awareness, the incidence of Lyme disease is still on the rise, with about more than 300,000 cases estimated annually in the U.S. alone. Lyme disease remains poorly understood and difficult to treat. The pathogenic bacteria have a very unique biology and are able to persist in a complex enzootic infection cycle. The symptoms of the disease greatly vary in individual subjects, ranging from a mild rash or fatigue to arthritis and neurological complications, and even death due to complications of Lyme carditis. In addition, although the disease can be treated with antibiotics, it often doesn’t lead to a complete or lasting cure. In many cases, lingering or recurring symptoms develop after antibiotic treatment – a poorly understood condition known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, or PTLDS.
Dr. Pal and his laboratory are specifically working towards a better understanding of tick-borne infections focusing on the Lyme disease on the molecular and microbiological levels, with the ultimate goal of developing effective therapeutics and vaccines against it. In the past work, the Pal laboratory has identified and characterized novel virulence determinants (i.e. studied microbial proteins that support infection and disease, and attempted to decipher their mode of action), elucidated host or vector components critical for infection as well as studied immune or vector-host pathways that play a role in the establishment and persistence of Lyme disease. The Pal lab continues to search for microbial and host proteins that are crucial to infection and that may be targeted for novel therapeutics and vaccines. These studies use groundbreaking technology, including gene manipulation, protein structure-function, various animal models and CRISPR.
Dr. Pal has mentored and trained more than 53 personnel Including 16 graduate (doctoral) students, 3 staff members and 7 junior faculty members in his laboratory, who are now engaged in scientific and academic careers, many with leadership roles. research has included numerous extramural grants (totaling ~16 million dollars), US patents, and collaborations with experts all over the world. Among these, he is currently the Lead PI for a major and multi-institutional P01 project, which is funded by NIH. The five-year grant incorporates cutting edge technology and involves close collaborations with institutions and expert biologists across the United States. (For more information about this research, please see the official project website, located at https://www.tickimmunity.info/). Other notable support and partnerships include the Merck
Pharmaceutical Company, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense, and the Global Lyme Alliance.
Rana VS, Kitsou C, Dutta S, Ronzetti MH, Zhang M, Bernard Q, Smith AA, Tomás-Cortázar J, Yang X, Wu MJ, Kepple O, Li W, Dwyer JE, Matias J, Baljinnyam B, Oliver JD, Rajeevan N, Pedra JHF, Narasimhan S, Wang Y, Munderloh U, Fikrig E, Simeonov A, Anguita J, Pal U. Dome1-JAK-STAT signaling between parasite and host integrates vector immunity and development. Science. 2023 Jan 13;379(6628):eabl3837. doi: 10.1126/science.abl3837. PMID: 36634189. [Full access to article: https://www.science.org/stoken/author-tokens/ST-963/full
De S, Kingan SB, Kitsou C, Portik DM, Foor SD, Frederick JC, Rana VS, Paulat NS, Ray DA, Wang Y, Glenn TC, Pal U. A high-quality Ixodes scapularis genome advances tick science. Nat Genet. 2023 Jan 19. doi:
10.1038/s41588-022-01275-w. [Full access to article: https://rdcu.be/c3M2V
Bernard Q, Smith AA, Yang X, Koci J, Foor SD, Cramer SD, Zhuang X, Dwyer JE, Lin YP, Mongodin EF, Marques A, Leong JM, Anguita J, Pal U. Plasticity in early immune evasion strategies of a bacterial pathogen. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2018; 115 (16):E3788-E3797. PMID: 29610317, PMCID: PMC5910839
Thakur M, Sharma K, Chao K, Smith AA, Herzberg O, Pal U. A protein-protein interaction dictates Borrelial infectivity. Scientific reports. 2017; 7(1):2932. PMID: 28592866, PMCID: PMC5462797
Smith AA, Navasa N, Yang X, Wilder CN, Buyuktanir O, Marques A, Anguita J, Pal U. Cross-Species Interferon Signaling Boosts Microbicidal Activity within the Tick Vector. Cell host & microbe. 2016; 20(1):91-8. PMID: 27374407, PMCID: PMC4945435
Ye M, Sharma K, Thakur M, Smith AA, Buyuktanir O, Xiang X, Yang X, Promnares K, Lou Y, Yang XF, Pal U. HtrA, a Temperature- and Stationary Phase-Activated Protease Involved in Maturation of a Key Microbial Virulence Determinant, Facilitates Borrelia burgdorferi Infection in Mammalian Hosts. Infection and immunity. 2016; 84(8):2372-2381. PMID: 27271745, PMCID: PMC4962642
Kariu T, Sharma K, Singh P, Smith AA, Backstedt B, Buyuktanir O, Pal U. BB0323 and novel virulence determinant BB0238: Borrelia burgdorferi proteins that interact with and stabilize each other and are critical for infectivity. The Journal of infectious diseases. 2015; 211(3):462-71. PMID: 25139020, PMCID: PMC4351374
Yang X, Smith AA, Williams MS, Pal U. A dityrosine network mediated by dual oxidase and peroxidase influences the persistence of Lyme disease pathogens within the vector. The Journal of Biological Chemistry. 2014; 289(18):12813-22. PMID: 24662290, PMCID: PMC4007469
Kariu T, Yang X, Marks CB, Zhang X, Pal U. Proteolysis of BB0323 results in two polypeptides that impact physiologic and infectious phenotypes in Borrelia burgdorferi. Molecular microbiology. 2013; 88(3):510-22. PMID: 23489252, PMCID: PMC3633617
Yang X, Qin J, Promnares K, Kariu T, Anderson JF, Pal U. Novel microbial virulence factor triggers murine lyme arthritis. The Journal of infectious diseases. 2013; 207(6):907-18. PMID: 23303811, PMCID: PMC3571445
Yang X, Coleman AS, Anguita J, Pal U. A chromosomally encoded virulence factor protects the Lyme disease pathogen against host-adaptive immunity. PLoS pathogens. 2009; 5(3):e1000326. PMID: 19266024, PMCID: PMC2644780
Pal U, Li X, Wang T, Montgomery RR, Ramamoorthi N, Desilva AM, Bao F, Yang X, Pypaert M, Pradhan D, Kantor FS, Telford S, Anderson JF, Fikrig E. TROSPA, an Ixodes scapularis receptor for Borrelia burgdorferi. Cell. 2004; 119(4):457-68. PMID: 15537536