Carolina Barillas-Mury

National Institutes of Health

Primary Section: 44, Microbial Biology
Secondary Section: 61, Animal, Nutritional, and Applied Microbial Sciences
Membership Type:
Member (elected 2014)


Dr. Barillas-Mury heads the Mosquito Immunity and Vector Competence Section of the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She is recognized for her work on mosquito immune responses that limit Plasmodium infection and the discovery of a mechanism of parasite immune evasion that enables malaria transmission. Dr. Barillas-Mury was born in Guatemala City and obtained her BS degree from “Universidad del Valle de Guatemala” and her MD from “Universidad Francisco Marroquín”. She obtained her PhD in biochemistry from the University of Arizona in 1991 in Dr. Michael Wells Laboratory, studying Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits dengue fever. She did her post-doctoral training in Dr. Fotis Kafatos laboratory at Harvard University and at European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Germany characterizing transcription factors that mediate mosquito immune responses. She obtained a Faculty position at Colorado State University in 1998 and joined NIH in 2003. Dr. Barillas-Mury received the 2010 Bailey K. Ashford Medal Awarded by the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene for distinguished work in tropical medicine, the 2013 Sanofi/Pasteur Award in Tropical and Neglected Diseases and was elected as member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014.

Research Interests

Dr. Barillas-Mury investigates mosquito antiplasmodial immunity, how Plasmodium falciparum parasites manipulate the mosquito immune system to survive, and how these interactions maintain global transmission of malaria.  Her studies led to novel strategies to prevent human disease, such as genetically modified mosquitoes and a novel vaccine to disrupt malaria transmission. She discovered that transmission of Plasmodium falciparum malaria is very effective because the parasite has a surface protein (Pfs47) that allows it to become “invisible” to the mosquito immune system. Her studies revealed that only parasites with a Pfs47 haplotype compatible with the local mosquito vector species are transmitted.  She has developed a transmission blocking vaccine and is testing whether transgenic mosquitoes expressing single chain antibodies to Pfs47 prevent disease transmission. She demonstrated that innate immune training in mosquitoes, mediated by phagocytic cells called hemocytes, enhances antiplasmodial immunity by activating the release of lipoxin A4 and prostaglandin E2.  She developed the first molecular atlas of mosquito hemocytes and is developing cell-specific markers to follow their dynamic responses to Plasmodium infection. She is currently investigating the molecular mechanism that maintains a permanent state of enhanced immune surveillance in mosquitoes following innate immune training.

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