The main research interest in my laboratory is focused on the involvement of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) in the pathomechanisms of cerebrovascular and neurodegenerative disorders. My laboratory is recognized for studies on the integrity and functions of the BBB, and was the first to describe dysfunction of brain endothelial cells in response to methamphetamine (METH) as well as potentiation of the BBB disruption when exposure to METH and HIV proteins is combined. We extensively published on the role of the BBB in HIV-1 trafficking into the brain. A new project in the laboratory is focused on brain entry of Zika Virus (ZIKV), followed by neurodevelopmental abnormalities.

Our vision is that studies on the mechanisms of BBB disruption can only be a starting point of the BBB research. The main challenge in the field rests on repairing the BBB in order to protect against processes initiated by the disrupted BBB. Although difficult, modulation of the BBB is possible because the BBB is not a rigid barrier, but rather a dynamic structure that receives continuous input from the CNS cells and can be modulated by environmental and/or pharmacological factors.

In addition to HIV, ZIKV and drug abuse research, a substantial part of research efforts in the laboratory has been on the cerebrovascular toxicity of environmental pollutants. We published the first study on the impact of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on the integrity of endothelial barrier. In addition, we extensively evaluated cerebrovascular toxicity of nanomaterials.

Specific research projects in the laboratory include: 

1. Interactions between HIV and amyloid at the BBB to evaluate how these interactions affect aging of the HIV-infected brain.
2. Impact of drug abuse on HIV infection and its outcomes, such as the development of neurocognitive dysfunction and/or cerebrovascular complications.
3. Behavioral interventions by exercise on modulation of the BBB in the context of methamphetamine-induced cerebrovascular toxicity and formation of brain metastasis.
4. Brain entry of Zika Virus (ZIKV) and ZIKV-mediated neurodevelopmental abnormalities.
5. Role of tight junction proteins, brain endothelial cells, and pericytes in brain infection by HIV.
6. HIV latency, reactivation, and eradication.
7. Impact of environmental toxicants (PCBs and nanomaterials) on cerebrovascular health and formation of brain metastasis.
8. Cerebrovascular toxicity of anti-retroviral drugs.
9. Impact of the gut microflora on tissue barrier integrity in the context of HIV infection, drug abuse, or exposure to environmental toxicants.


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