School of Dentistry
The Role of Environmental Exposures in Autoimmunity
Melodie Weller, Assistant Professor
Environmental pathogen exposures have been thought to be triggers in the development of chronic diseases. The Weller Lab studies the role of select environmental exposures in the development of a chronic autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s syndrome. This female-predominant autoimmune disease affects 1-4 million people in the United States and is characterized by decreased saliva and tear production, inflammation in the salivary gland tissues and development of autoantibodies. Low-level, chronic viral exposures in connection with genetic susceptibility factors are thought to be the underlying triggers of this chronic autoimmune disease. Our lab has focused on further characterizing these viral signatures and identifying routes of exposure in patient populations. Projects in the lab utilize viral-genome sequencing, microarray, bioinformatics, immunohistchemisty and cell culture to define the underlying mechanism(s) of autoimmunity. Ultimately, our goal is to understand the mechanism(s) of viral-mediated triggers of Sjogren’s syndrome to further develop preventative measures and/or targeted therapeutics.