Rebecca Pastrana-Mena, PhD
My research interests focus on Parasite Biology. Understanding basic biological processes of pathogens can lead to the discovery of new drug targets, new vaccine candidates or simply help us to better understand parasite development over the course of its life cycle. During my PhD training in Puerto Rico I worked with the glutathione pathway in Plasmodium berghei parasites and studied the effect of glutathione reductase in the phenomenon of drug resistance, specifically for chloroquine and artemisinin. During this period my research focused on asexual stages of the parasite (in-vitro cultures and mouse work), but I was able to work for a short period of time with sexual stages in the mosquito. This experience peaked my interest in mosquito-stage biology of the parasite and paved the way for my postdoctoral fellowship in the Dinglasan lab at Johns Hopkins.
My current research focuses on the study of O-linked N-acetylglucosamine (O-GlcNAc) glycosylation in Plasmodium parasites. This dynamic post-translational modification has been shown to be highly important for: receptor-ligand interactions, cellular responses to nutritional state and stress, transcription/translation and control of nuclear trafficking among others. Despite a substantial amount of work on the O-GlcNAc modification among Eukaryotes, very little is known about O-GlcNAc in Plasmodium parasites. Previous studies have suggested the presence of O-GlcNAcylated proteins in Plasmodium samples but the enzymes responsible for the addition and removal of the sugar have yet to be identified. The aim of my project is to use genomic, proteomic, and bioinformatic approaches to uncover (1) the Plasmodial O-GlcNAc transferase and N-acetyl-beta-glucosaminidase and (2) O-GlcNAcylated proteins in the parasite.