Melissa Herbst-Kralovetz

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

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.


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

Hjelm, B. E., Kilbourne, J., & Herbst-Kralovetz, M. M. (2013). TLR7 and 9 agonists are highly effective mucosal adjuvants for norovirus virus-like particle vaccines. Human vaccines & immunotherapeutics, 10(3).

Virus-like particles (VLPs) are an active area of vaccine research, development and commercialization. Mucosal administration of VLPs provides an attractive avenue for delivery of vaccines with the potential to produce robust immune responses. Nasal and oral delivery routes are particularly intriguing due to differential activation of mucosa-associated lymphoid tissues. We compared both intranasal and oral administration of VLPs with a panel of toll-like receptor (TLR) agonists (TLR3, 5, 7, 7/8, and 9) to determine the mucosal adjuvant activity of these immunomodulators. We selected Norwalk virus (NV) VLPs because it is an effective model antigen and an active area of research and commercialization. To prioritize these adjuvants, VLP-specific antibody production in serum (IgG, IgG1, IgG2a), vaginal lavages (IgG, IgA), and fecal pellets (IgA) were measured across a longitudinal timeseries in vaccinated mice. Additional distal mucosal sites (nasal, brochoalveolar, salivary, and gastrointestinal) were evaluated for VLP-specific responses (IgA). Intranasal co-delivery of VLPs with TLR7 or TLR9 agonists produced the most robust and broad-spectrum immune responses, systemically and at distal mucosal sites inducing VLP-specific antibodies at all sites evaluated. In addition, these VLP-specific antibodies blocked binding of NV VLPs to histo-blood group antigen (H type 1), supporting their functionality. Oral administration and/or other TLR agonists tested in the panel did not consistently enhance VLP-specific immune responses. This study demonstrates that intranasal co-delivery of VLPs with TLR7 or TLR9 agonists provides dose-sparing advantages for induction of specific and functional antibody responses against VLPs (i.e., non-replicating antigens) in the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and reproductive tract.

Doerflinger, S. Y., Winkle, S., McAllister, D., Arntzen, C., & Herbst-Kralovetz, M. -. (2013). Monoclonal antibody reactivity and specificity against GI and GII norovirus VLP. TBD.