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, M. M., Prescott, J., Palmer, A. D., & Schountz, T. (2002). Sequence and expression analysis of deer mouse interferon-gamma, interleukin-10, tumor necrosis factor, and lymphotoxin-alpha. Cytokine, 17(4).

Deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) are the principal host species of Sin Nombre (SN) virus, the primary etiologic agent of hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome in North America. The disease is a cytokine-mediated immunopathology characterized by pulmonary mononuclear infiltrates without discernible viral pathology. Infected deer mice remain life-long carriers and virus is found in many organs, including the lungs, but without pathology. It is unclear how deer mice respond to SN virus because no tools exist to examine the immune response in infected animals. As an initial step in examining host responses to SN virus, we have cloned partial cDNAs of deer mouse interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), interleukin-10 (IL-10), tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and lymphotoxin-alpha (LTalpha). IL-10, TNF and LTalpha sequences are highly conserved compared to orthologs of other mammalian species, while IFN-gamma is substantially less conserved. Phylogenetic analyses indicate that the amino acid sequences of IFN-gamma and TNF may be useful in resolving relationships at the subfamily level within the rodent family Muridae. While all four sets of analyses were able to reconstruct clade Rodentia, they were not able to resolve the relationships among the mammalian orders represented in this study. Reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis of concanavalin A-stimulated splenocytes determined that maximal IFN-gamma and TNF expression occurred rapidly while IL-10 and LTalpha expression was maximal at 24 h.

Radtke, A. L., Quayle, A. J., & Herbst-Kralovetz, M. -. (2012). Microbial products alter the expression of membrane-associated mucin and antimicrobial peptides in a 3-D human endocervical epithelial cell model. Biology of Reproduction, 6(87), 132.
Velasquez, L. S., Hjelm, B. E., Arntzen, C. J., & Herbst-Kralovetz, M. M. (2010). An intranasally delivered Toll-like receptor 7 agonist elicits robust systemic and mucosal responses to Norwalk virus-like particles. Clinical and vaccine immunology : CVI, 17(12).

Norwalk virus (NV) is an enteric pathogen from the genus Norovirus and a major cause of nonbacterial gastroenteritis in humans. NV virus-like particles (VLPs) are known to elicit systemic and mucosal immune responses when delivered nasally; however, the correlates of immune protection are unknown, and codelivery with a safe and immunogenic mucosal adjuvant may enhance protective anti-NV immune responses. Resiquimod (R848), an imidazoquinoline-based Toll-like receptor 7 and/or 8 (TLR7/8) agonist, is being evaluated as an adjuvant in FDA-approved clinical vaccine trials. As such, we evaluated the adjuvant activity of two imidazoquinoline-based TLR7 and TLR7/8 agonists when codelivered intranasally with plant-derived NV VLPs. We also compared the activity of these agonists to the gold standard mucosal adjuvant, cholera toxin (CT). Our results indicate that codelivery with the TLR7 agonist, gardiquimod (GARD), induces NV VLP-specific serum IgG and IgG isotype responses and mucosal IgA responses in the gastrointestinal, respiratory, and reproductive tracts that are superior to those induced by R848 and comparable to those induced by the mucosal adjuvant CT. This study supports the continued investigation of GARD as a mucosal adjuvant for NV VLPs and possible use for other VLP-based vaccines for which immune responses at distal mucosal sites (e.g., respiratory and reproductive tracts) are desired.

Mason, H. S., & Herbst-Kralovetz, M. M. (2012). Plant-derived antigens as mucosal vaccines. Current topics in microbiology and immunology, 354, 101-20.

During the last two decades, researchers have developed robust systems for recombinant subunit vaccine production in plants. Stably and transiently transformed plants have particular advantages that enable immunization of humans and animals via mucosal delivery. The initial goal to immunize orally by ingestion of plant-derived antigens has proven difficult to attain, although many studies have demonstrated antibody production in both humans and animals, and in a few cases, protection against pathogen challenge. Substantial hurdles for this strategy are low-antigen content in crudely processed plant material and limited antigen stability in the gut. An alternative is intranasal delivery of purified plant-derived antigens expressed with robust viral vectors, especially virus-like particles. The use of pattern recognition receptor agonists as adjuvants for mucosal delivery of plant-derived antigens can substantially enhance serum and mucosal antibody responses. In this chapter, we briefly review the methods for recombinant protein expression in plants, and describe progress with human and animal vaccines that use mucosal delivery routes. We do not attempt to compile a comprehensive list, but focus on studies that progressed to clinical trials or those that showed strong indications of efficacy in animals. Finally, we discuss some regulatory concerns regarding plant-based vaccines.

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.