Jesus Gilberto Valenzuela, Ph.D.

Senior Investigator

Vector Molecular Biology Section


TW3 Building, Room 2E22
12735 Twinbrook Parkway
Rockville, MD 20852


Research Topics

The Vector Molecular Biology Section focuses on the molecular aspects of vector salivary proteins, with emphasis on studying the impact of sand fly salivary proteins at the vector/host/parasite interface. Our section combines basic approaches with entomological, veterinary, and clinical research, broadening our understanding of the relationship between immune responses to vector salivary proteins and disease outcome. Our ultimate goal is to use this information to contribute to the development of an effective vaccine by incorporating a salivary protein in an anti-Leishmania vaccine formulation, to develop animal models that mimic the disease transmission in nature, and to develop biomarkers of vector exposure for epidemiological studies.

Our interest in these studies is based on the fact that every time an infective sand fly gets a blood meal, it delivers Leishmania parasites and at the same time injects saliva, which contains a variety of potent bioactive proteins that helps the insect to get a blood meal and consequently modifies the environment where the parasite is deposited. Current vaccines and animal models of leishmaniasis do not take this fact into account, and we hypothesize this may be one of the reason why an effective vaccine is not yet available even after years of research and a number of promising available candidates. In our section, we identified salivary immunogens that can drive a protective immune response against this neglected disease, and we recently established relevant animal models of disease using the natural route of transmission, the bite of infective sand flies. These approaches are permitting the section to ask basic and fundamental research questions regarding the transmission of this vector borne-disease, to study the impact of selected salivary recombinant proteins in disease, to translate these findings to field research work, and to create partnerships with companies, research institutions, and non-profit organizations to apply this information for veterinary and public health purposes.


Dr. Valenzuela received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Arizona in 1995. He joined the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases in 1996, became a research fellow in 1999, and became a tenure-track investigator in the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research in October 2002. Dr. Valenzuela became a senior investigator in October 2009.

Selected Publications

  1. Manning JE, Oliveira F, Coutinho-Abreu IV, Herbert S, Meneses C, Kamhawi S, Baus HA, Han A, Czajkowski L, Rosas LA, Cervantes-Medina A, Athota R, Reed S, Mateja A, Hunsberger S, James E, Pleguezuelos O, Stoloff G, Valenzuela JG, Memoli MJ. Safety and immunogenicity of a mosquito saliva peptide-based vaccine: a randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind, phase 1 trial. Lancet. 2020;395(10242):1998-2007.

  2. Serafim TD, Coutinho-Abreu IV, Oliveira F, Meneses C, Kamhawi S, Valenzuela JG. Sequential blood meals promote Leishmania replication and reverse metacyclogenesis augmenting vector infectivity. Nat Microbiol. 2018;3(5):548-555.

  3. Dey R, Joshi AB, Oliveira F, Pereira L, Guimarães-Costa AB, Serafim TD, de Castro W, Coutinho-Abreu IV, Bhattacharya P, Townsend S, Aslan H, Perkins A, Karmakar S, Ismail N, Karetnick M, Meneses C, Duncan R, Nakhasi HL, Valenzuela JG, Kamhawi S. Gut Microbes Egested during Bites of Infected Sand Flies Augment Severity of Leishmaniasis via Inflammasome-Derived IL-1β. Cell Host Microbe. 2018;23(1):134-143.e6.

  4. Oliveira F, Rowton E, Aslan H, Gomes R, Castrovinci PA, Alvarenga PH, Abdeladhim M, Teixeira C, Meneses C, Kleeman LT, Guimarães-Costa AB, Rowland TE, Gilmore D, Doumbia S, Reed SG, Lawyer PG, Andersen JF, Kamhawi S, Valenzuela JG. A sand fly salivary protein vaccine shows efficacy against vector-transmitted cutaneous leishmaniasis in nonhuman primates. Sci Transl Med. 2015;7(290):290ra90.

  5. Zhang WW, Karmakar S, Gannavaram S, Dey R, Lypaczewski P, Ismail N, Siddiqui A, Simonyan V, Oliveira F, Coutinho-Abreu IV, DeSouza-Vieira T, Meneses C, Oristian J, Serafim TD, Musa A, Nakamura R, Saljoughian N, Volpedo G, Satoskar M, Satoskar S, Dagur PK, McCoy JP, Kamhawi S, Valenzuela JG, Hamano S, Satoskar AR, Matlashewski G, Nakhasi HL. A second generation leishmanization vaccine with a markerless attenuated Leishmania major strain using CRISPR gene editing. Nat Commun. 2020;11(1):3461.

This page was last updated on August 3rd, 2021