Welcome to the Criss Lab - Our Research Interests are

Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms of Neisserial Pathogenesis


Our laboratory in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Cancer Biology at the University of Virginia investigates the pathogenic mechanisms of Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the cause of the bacterial sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea. Gonorrhea affects tens of millions of people worldwide every year and has devastating effects on human health. Options for treating N. gonorrhoeae are extremely limited, since this bacterium has developed high-level resistance to multiple antibiotics. By identifying and characterizing the ways in which N. gonorrhoeae survives inside its human hosts, our research has the potential to uncover new targets that can be developed into effective new antimicrobial products.

Our main research interest is in understanding how N. gonorrhoeae resists clearance by neutrophils. Acute gonorrhea is an inflammatory disease characterized by the recruitment of large numbers of neutrophils to the site of infection. Although neutrophils are generally considered the body’s first defenders against microbial challenge, our research has shown that primary human neutrophils are ineffective at killing N. gonorrhoeae. We have found that N. gonorrhoeae not only encodes gene products that defend against neutrophils and their antimicrobial products, but also prevents neutrophils from fully activating their antimicrobial arsenal. Specific information about research projects in the lab can be found here and about the people in the lab carrying out this research here. By understanding the diverse and complementary approaches that allow N. gonorrhoeae to survive exposure to neutrophils, we hope to devise ways to enhance neutrophil anti-Neisserial activities, which will help combat multidrug-resistant gonorrhea.