Proteomics as a tool
for understanding
infectious diseases

Published July 01 2017

When a pathogen infects a host, myriad changes occur at the protein level in both the host and the pathogen.

These changes are in constant coevolving opposition; the pathogen undergoes dynamic changes in protein production to promote infection and reproduction, while the host undergoes protein production changes to combat the infection.

In the April issue of the journal Molecular & Cellular Proteomics, the contribution of the field of proteomics to the deeper understanding of pathogenic infections is celebrated in a series of articles highlighting recent discoveries in infectious disease research.

“These studies have led to the discovery of mechanisms that underlie pathogen replication or host defense, as well as the characterization of pathogen composition and features that contribute to its virulence,” Ileana Cristea of Princeton University writes in the editorial for this special issue on proteomics and infectious disease. “This issue tries to capture some of this diversity of infectious disease studies that have benefited from the integration of proteomics methods.”

This issue of MCP shows the versatility and multiplicity of proteomic technologies for analysis of protein abundance changes, post-translational modification changes, protein interactions, subcellular localization and secretion patterns upon infection of a host by a pathogen.

Cristea points out that these proteomic techniques can “address a wide range of questions relevant to infectious disease biology, diagnosis, and therapy.” Additionally, these proteomic tools are applied to an array of relevant infectious models, including bacteria, viruses and parasites.

This special issue begins by focusing on the pathogenic side of infections, seeking to understand the properties and virulence of pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, Cryptosporidium parvum and Plasmodium falciparum. From there, the issue turns to the host features of infection, beginning with a series of articles that analyze the changes that occur in host composition upon pathogenic infection. These articles emphasize host response to viral infections such as herpes simplex virus, hepatitis B virus and HIV.

Next, the issue features research focused on elucidation of the mechanisms of host defense against pathogens. These articles demonstrate the amazing diversity of mechanisms that host organisms use to combat infection, including stimulation of the innate immune response, formation of inflammasomes and inhibition of virus gene expression.

This issue also features a series of articles focused on proteomic technologies, including some novel methods for biomarker and therapeutic discovery to combat devastating pathogens.

By utilizing proteomic approaches from multiple sides of the issue, we can begin to assemble the complicated puzzle of infectious disease from both the host and pathogen perspectives and better understand how to combat these infections, which account for almost 25 percent of deaths worldwide. Proteomic techniques also provide a platform for rapid drug discovery and testing of potential therapeutics that could make a real impact on world health.

“Altogether, the manuscripts gathered in this special issue elegantly demonstrate that proteomics is well positioned to continue to make significant contributions to the field of infectious disease research,” Cristea writes. “Looking ahead, this is an exciting time for studies that integrate these two fields of science.”

Amber Lucas Amber Lucas is a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University.