Jesus G. Valenzuela, Ph.D.

Senior Investigator

Vector Molecular Biology Section


TW3 Building, Room 2E32
12735 Twinbrook Parkway
Rockville, MD 20852


Research Topics

The Vector Molecular Biology Section (VMBS) focuses on understanding how molecules from arthropod vectors are critical for the success of pathogen transmission and translating this knowledge into disease control opportunities. The section has two main themes: dissecting the immune events following an arthropod bite, mainly the cellular interactions at the vector-host-pathogen interface, and their implication for disease pathogenesis; and elucidating the determinants of successful transmission to a mammalian host by a competent arthropod vector.

The VMBS uses immunology, biochemistry, bioinformatics and functional genomic approaches combined with field entomological and clinical studies to address our main research questions. The main vector arthropods we study are sand flies, ticks and mosquitoes. Our two main interests encompass basic and translational lines of research. Basic research focuses on understanding the initial events in host skin after infected vector bites and has revealed several new mediators leading to immune changes affecting pathogen establishment. Another line of basic research focuses on understanding how arthropod vectors become infectious and has led to the identification of a new developmental stage in Leishmania that is pertinent to efficacy of transmission in nature. Our translational research goals are the understanding of the innate and adaptive skin immune responses to arthropod vector bites in human volunteers, the development of an effective vaccine by incorporating vector salivary proteins, and the development of biomarkers of vector exposure for epidemiological studies in disease endemic countries.


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. In 2019, Dr. Valenzuela became deputy chief of the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research.

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.

Related Scientific Focus Areas

This page was last updated on Tuesday, August 3, 2021