Studies in the Litman laboratory are focused on developmental immunology. One group of projects seeks to understand mechanisms of recognition of self/nonself as well as altered self and involves the discovery of novel forms of immune receptors and studies of their integrated functions. Zebrafish is the primary model system in these investigations that are approached at the genomic, biochemical and structural biology levels. The long-term goal of these studies is to better understand innate immunity as a first line of defense against pathogen challenge and the interrelationships between different components of the phylogenetically ancient innate immune system.
The second group of studies is directed at understanding the origins of immune receptor function and how local genome environments relate to the functional diversity of immune receptors. These investigations are focused on amphioxus, a cephalochordate and contemporary representative of the early chordate form, and will examine how genetic diversity relates to immunological function. Extensive use of genomic resources and technology, genetic engineering of receptor variants and transgenesis as a read-out system for examining recombination are the basis for the experimental approach.
The overall goals of these investigations are to better understand the origins of the immune system, its diversification during evolutionary development as a means to understand its functional integration and the manner in which genetic diversity is acquired and stabilized in the population.