“Top-Cited Author” Professor Ferraro Studies Eicosanoid and Cannabinoid Response to Bacterial Infection

University of Florida Associate Professor Mariola Ferraro was recognized by the American Society for Microbiology as a “Top Cited Author” of 2023 for her mini-review article with former doctoral researcher Austin Sheppe entitled, Roles of Eicosanoids in Regulating Inflammation and Neutrophil Migration as an Innate Host Response to Bacterial Infections, in Infection and Immunity.


Eicosanoids are immunomodulatory molecules formed from unsaturated fatty acids released directly from cell membrane phospholipids. Generally categorized into four families—prostaglandins, prostacyclines, thromboxanes, and leukotrienes—eicosanoids play a vital and diverse role in physiology, including inflammation, mucus production, vasodilation, uterine contraction, blood clotting, cell-to-cell communication, and bronchoconstriction. The localized nature of eicosanoids allows for rapid signaling and immediate response to triggers.

Sheppe and Ferraro focus on the novel function of eicosanoids in the regulation of inflammatory processes in response to bacterial infection. Their highlighted review article, partly inspired by Yersinia pseudotuberculosis YobJ Limits Macrophage Response by Downregulating COX-2-Mediated Bionsynthesis of PGE2 in MAPK/ERK-Dependent Manner, suggests that the large quantity of prostaglandins that are released during infection by some Gram-negative pathogens enhance inflammasome activation and pore-induced intracellular trap formation, trapping bacteria from escaping the dying cell and clearance by neutrophils.


“Given the growing popularity of plant-based and synthetic cannabinoids for recreational and medical use, our investigations extend beyond brain functions of cannabinoids to show the substantial impact of these molecules on gastrointestinal pathogens and microbiota.”

The Ferraro lab continues to investigate the role of bioactive lipids in response to bacteria. “Since the publication of the review article in 2021, our research has taken more focus into bioactive lipids, particularly focusing on cannabinoids, as a natural progression of our previous work,” says Ferraro. Initial studies indicate an intriguing association between Salmonella and the endocannabinoid system, a widespread neuromodulatory network that is mostly known for its role in the central nervous system. “This ongoing research aims to illuminate the relationship between bioactive lipids and gastrointestinal infections, providing insights into a dual-class compound dynamic within the intricate host-pathogen dialogue,” continues Ferraro.

While frequently associated with plants of the Cannabis genus, cannabinoids produced by the body, referred to as endocannabinoids, regulate many critical functions, including sleep, mood, memory, hunger, and inflammatory and immune responses. The endocannabinoid system is a complex signaling network of cannabinoid receptors throughout the brain and body, including the GI tract.

Extracellular Vesicles

In addition to bioactive lipids, the Ferraro lab recently discovered a novel function of host-derived extracellular vesicles in the stimulation of the adaptive immune response against intracellular pathogens. Their publication, Extracellular Vesicles Elicit Protective Immune Responses Against Salmonella Infection, in the Journal of Extracellular Vesicles highlights that intranasal administration of small extracellular vesicles produced by antigen-presenting cells reduced bacterial load and protected mice from what would otherwise be considered a lethal dose of Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium. These results demonstrate the potential for a cell-free vaccine strategy against bacterial infection. Ferraro’s current research continues to investigate host-derived extracellular vesicle mechanisms of action and the methods by which antigens are trafficked into vesicle compartments.

Interested in learning more?

Associate Professor Ferraro offers graduate-level courses through the University of Florida’s Department of Microbiology and Cell Science, including:


About UF Microbiology and Cell Science: The Department of Microbiology and Cell Science at the University of Florida is the largest microbiology program in the United States with an enrollment of approximately 1,000 undergraduate majors and over 50 doctoral students. The Department of Microbiology and Cell Science is home to 26 tenure faculty, 10 non-tenure faculty and 11 post-doctoral fellows whose research span the cellular and molecular aspects of bacterial, plant and animal life.


Avatar photo
Posted: January 23, 2024

Category: UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Research,
Tags: CALS, College Of Agricultural And Life Sciences, Department Of Microbiology And Cell Science, Faculty Highlight, Mariola Edelmann, Microbiology And Cell Science

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe For More Great Content

IFAS Blogs Categories