Joel Vega-Rodriguez, Ph.D.

Stadtman Investigator

Molecular Parasitology and Entomology Unit, Lab of Malaria & Vector Research


TW3 Building, Room 2E20
12735 Twinbrook Parkway
Rockville, MD 20852


Research Topics

Malaria parasites have a complex life cycle that takes place in between the human host and the mosquito vector. The parasite undergoes severe developmental bottlenecks during sexual reproduction in the mosquito midgut and during sporozoite infection of the human, making these two stages of the life cycle excellent targets for the development of new anti-malarial strategies. The research goals in the Molecular Parasitology and Entomology Unit are to study the biology of the malaria parasite during these vulnerable developmental bottlenecks by characterizing essential vector-parasite and host-parasite interactions. The long-term goal is to identify new targets that could be exploited for malaria interventions including chemotherapy, vaccine development, and transgenic mosquitoes. Two specific areas of study include:

  • The role of vector and host factors for sporozoite infectivity
  • Molecular mechanisms required for Plasmodium sexual reproduction in the mosquito

To achieve these goals, our laboratory uses a combination of molecular, cellular, and entomological technologies including single-cell transcriptomics, proteomics, parasite and mosquito transgenesis, RNA interference, intravital confocal microscopy, and malaria transmission assays.


Dr. Joel Vega-Rodriguez received his Ph.D. in molecular biology in 2008 at the Rio Piedras Campus of the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan. In 2009 he joined the laboratory of Dr. Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena at the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, where he did his postdoctoral training and later became a research associate. In 2018, Dr. Vega-Rodriguez became a Stadtman tenure-track investigator in the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research.

Selected Publications

  1. Alves E Silva TL, Radtke A, Balaban A, Pascini TV, Pala ZR, Roth A, Alvarenga PH, Jeong YJ, Olivas J, Ghosh AK, Bui H, Pybus BS, Sinnis P, Jacobs-Lorena M, Vega-Rodríguez J. The fibrinolytic system enables the onset of Plasmodium infection in the mosquito vector and the mammalian host. Sci Adv. 2021;7(6).
  2. Pascini TV, Jeong YJ, Huang W, Pala ZR, Sá JM, Wells MB, Kizito C, Sweeney B, Alves E Silva TL, Andrew DJ, Jacobs-Lorena M, Vega-Rodríguez J. Transgenic Anopheles mosquitoes expressing human PAI-1 impair malaria transmission. Nat Commun. 2022;13(1):2949.
  3. Wang G, Vega-Rodríguez J, Diabate A, Liu J, Cui C, Nignan C, Dong L, Li F, Ouedrago CO, Bandaogo AM, Sawadogo PS, Maiga H, Alves E Silva TL, Pascini TV, Wang S, Jacobs-Lorena M. Clock genes and environmental cues coordinate Anopheles pheromone synthesis, swarming, and mating. Science. 2021;371(6527):411-415.
  4. Bogale HN, Pascini TV, Kanatani S, Sá JM, Wellems TE, Sinnis P, Vega-Rodríguez J, Serre D. Transcriptional heterogeneity and tightly regulated changes in gene expression during Plasmodium berghei sporozoite development. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021;118(10).
  5. Ernest M, Rosa TFA, Pala ZR, Kudyba HM, Sweeney B, Reiss T, Pradel G, Vega-Rodríguez J. Plasmodium falciparum Gametes and Sporozoites Hijack Plasmin and Factor H To Evade Host Complement Killing. Microbiol Spectr. 2023;11(3):e0449322.

Related Scientific Focus Areas

This page was last updated on Tuesday, August 15, 2023