Melissa Herbst-Kralovetz
Associate Professor, BIO5 Institute
Associate Professor, Basic Medical Sciences
Associate Professor, Clinical Translational Sciences
Associate Professor, Obstetrics and Gynecology
Primary Department
Department Affiliations
(602) 827-2247
Research Interest
Melissa Herbst-Kralovetz, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Basic Medical Sciences and Obstetrics and Gynecology and is Director of the Women's Health Microbiome Initiative at the UA College of Medicine-Phoenix. The Herbst-Kralovetz research lab is broadly interested in understanding innate mucosal immune responses to resident bacteria, pathogens (e.g HSV-2), and microbial products at mucosal sites, including the female reproductive tract. The mucosa provides a major immune barrier (physical, biological, and chemical) to microbial insult and her lab is interested in studying the mucosal barrier function of the lower female reproductive tract and its role in host defense against infection and inflammation as well as maintaining mucosal homeostasis. Dr. Herbst-Kralovetz has a long-standing interest and background in studying infections/conditions that impact women’s health.


Herbst-Kralovetz, M., Jackson, E. M., & Herbst-Kralovetz, M. -. (2012). Intranasal vaccination with murabutide enhances humoral and mucosal immune responses to a virus-like particle vaccine. PloS one, 7(7).

Murabutide (MB) is a synthetic immunomodulator recognized by the nucleotide-binding oligomerization domain-containing protein 2 (NOD2) receptor on mammalian cells. MB has previously been approved for testing in multiple human clinical trials to determine its value as an antiviral therapeutic, and as an adjuvant for injected vaccines. We have found a new use for this immunomodulator; it functions as a mucosal adjuvant that enhances immunogenicity of virus-like particles (VLP) administered intranasally. MB enhanced Norwalk virus (NV) VLP-specific IgG systemically and IgA production at distal mucosal sites following intranasal (IN) vaccination. A dose escalation study identified 100 µg as the optimal MB dosage in mice, based on the magnitude of VLP-specific IgG, IgG1, IgG2a and IgA production in serum and VLP-specific IgA production at distal mucosal sites. IN vaccination using VLP with MB was compared to IN delivery VLP with cholera toxin (CT) or gardiquimod (GARD) and to parenteral VLP delivery with alum; the MB groups were equivalent to CT and GARD and superior to alum in inducing mucosal immune responses and stimulated equivalent systemic VLP-specific antibodies. These data support the further testing of MB as a potent mucosal adjuvant for inducing robust and durable antibody responses to non-replicating subunit vaccines.

Phoolcharoen, W., Dye, J. M., Kilbourne, J., Piensook, K., Pratt, W. D., Arntzen, C. A., Mason, H., & Herbst-Kralovetz, M. -. (2011). Ebola immune complex co-delivered with poly (I:C) protects mice against lethal Ebola challenge. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A., 51(108), 20695-20700.
Chase, D., Goulder, A., Zenhausern, F., Monk, B., & Herbst-Kralovetz, M. (2015). The vaginal and gastrointestinal microbiomes in gynecologic cancers: a review of applications in etiology, symptoms and treatment. Gynecologic oncology, 138(1), 190-200.

The human microbiome is the collection of microorganisms in the body that exist in a mutualistic relationship with the host. Recent studies indicate that perturbations in the microbiome may be implicated in a number of diseases, including cancer. More specifically, changes in the gut and vaginal microbiomes may be associated with a variety of gynecologic cancers, including cervical cancer, uterine cancer, and ovarian cancer. Current research and gaps in knowledge regarding the association between the gut and vaginal microbiomes and the development, progression, and treatment of gynecologic cancers are reviewed here. In addition, the potential use of probiotics to manage symptoms of these gynecologic cancers is discussed. A better understanding of how the microbiome composition is altered at these sites and its interaction with the host may aid in prevention, optimization of current therapies, development of new therapeutic agents and/or dosing regimens, and possibly limit the side effects associated with cancer treatment.

Winkle, S. M., Throop, A. L., & Herbst-Kralovetz, M. M. (2016). IL-36γ Augments Host Defense and Immune Responses in Human Female Reproductive Tract Epithelial Cells. Frontiers in microbiology, 7, 955.

IL-36γ is a proinflamatory cytokine which belongs to the IL-1 family of cytokines. It is expressed in the skin and by epithelial cells (ECs) lining lung and gut tissue. We used human 3-D organotypic cells, that recapitulate either in vivo human vaginal or cervical tissue, to explore the possible role of IL-36γ in host defense against pathogens in the human female reproductive tract (FRT). EC were exposed to compounds derived from virus or bacterial sources and induction and regulation of IL-36γ and its receptor was determined. Polyinosinic-polycytidylic acid (poly I:C), flagellin, and synthetic lipoprotein (FSL-1) significantly induced expression of IL-36γ in a dose-dependent manner, and appeared to be TLR-dependent. Recombinant IL-36γ treatment resulted in self-amplification of IL-36γ and its receptor (IL-36R) via increased gene expression, and promoted other inflammatory signaling pathways. This is the first report to demonstrate that the IL-36 receptor and IL-36γ are present in the human FRT EC and that they are differentially induced by microbial products at this site. We conclude that IL-36γ is a driver for epithelial and immune activation following microbial insult and, as such, may play a critical role in host defense in the FRT.

Łaniewski, P., & Herbst-Kralovetz, M. M. (2018). Chapter 52: Vagina. Encyclopedia of Reproduction.

Chapter within the Encyclopedia of Reproduction