David J. Thornton
PositionProfessor of Biochemistry
Research in my laboratory is focused on understanding how the sticky, gel-like substance mucus protects the body. Research is focused on two major topics; • How does mucus protect our lungs? • How does mucus protect against gut-living parasitic worms? In the lungs, mucus is essential in keeping the airways free from obstruction. Mucus traps inhaled bugs and particles and then hair-like cells (cilia) move the mucus out of the lungs. In diseases like asthma, cystic fibrosis and chronic bronchitis too much mucus, which is stickier than normal, is produced and it is not efficiently removed from the lungs. This results in airflow obstruction, infection, damage to lung tissue and problems with breathing. We are trying to understand how mucins, the molecules that give mucus its gel-like appearance, contribute to the abnormal properties of mucus in disease. Infections by gut-living whipworms are a major public health problem, mainly in the developing world. For these studies we are using a mouse model of human whipworm infection. We discovered that the mucus barrier and its mucin components are an essential part of a well-coordinated response to protect against of gut-living worms. We are actively investigating the details of this important protective function.