Francis Impens is group leader at the VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology and full professor at the Department for Biomolecular Medicine, Ghent University. He investigates host-bacteria interactions using innovative mass spectrometry-based approaches with the aim to develop novel antimicrobial therapies and vaccines.
Prof. Francis Impens
VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology; Department of Biomolecular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (UGent)
Technologiepark-Zwijnaarde 75, 9052 Gent, Belgium
With increasing antibiotic resistance, bacterial infections remain an important threat to human health. To identify novel targets for therapeutic intervention our group investigates host-bacteria interactions by innovative mass spectrometry (MS)-based approaches. Using Listeria monocytogenes as an intracellular bacterial model pathogen, we focus on the analysis of ubiquitin-like protein modifications of the immune system and the MS-based identification of novel bacterial antigens. A first line of research focuses on ISG15. ISG15 is a ubiquitin-like protein that is well known to counteract viral and bacterial infections, but the underlying molecular mechanisms are poorly understood. In contrast to ubiquitin and SUMO, the ISG15 substrate repertoire is largely unknown and no binding domains or interaction motifs are described that recognize ISG15. As a consequence, the fate of proteins modified by ISG15 (“ISGylated proteins”) inside infected cells is unknown. We develop novel proteomics-based strategies to identify target proteins and conjugation sites of ISG15 that will help to further elucidate the role of ISGylation in the host defense against infection. Secondly, we focus on the analysis of antigenic peptides during infection. Although many aspects of the MHC presentation pathway are known in great detail, the rules for peptide selection remain largely unknown. We develop robust pipelines for the LC-MS/MS identification of antigenic peptides presented on infected cells, a technology called immunopeptidomics. Newly identified epitopes and antigens are encoded in novel bacterial mRNA vaccine formulations.