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Annual Pittman Lecture To Feature Pascale Cossart, May 7

By Anne Oplinger

Dr. Pascale Cossart, a foremost authority on the food-borne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes, will present the annual Margaret Pittman Lecture on Wednesday, May 7. Cossart, a professor at the Institut Pasteur, Paris, has made key discoveries about the unusual abilities of this bacterium, such as its capacity to cross the intestinal barrier. "The Fascinating Strategies Used by Listeria Monocytogenes to Establish an Infection" is scheduled for 3 p.m. in Masur Auditorium, Bldg. 10.

Listeriosis, the bacterial disease caused by L. monocytogenes, can cause severe gastroenteritis, meningitis and abortion. Foods associated with outbreaks of listeriosis include pâté, soft cheeses such as Brie and raw or contaminated milk.

Dr. Pascale Cossart, an authority on the food-borne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes, will present the annual Margaret Pittman Lecture on Wednesday, May 7.

Through multidisciplinary approaches, Cossart has shed light on the strategies used by L. monocytogenes to evade the immune system's defenses and establish infection. For example, she and her colleagues discovered genes responsible for the bacterium's virulence as well as a master gene that activates them. She has also investigated the steps in the infectious process, in particular the way the bacterium moves and spreads from cell to cell by using the host cell's actin protein.

Cossart discovered two proteins needed by L. monocytogenes to gain entry into cells. Further investigation revealed that a host cell membrane receptor used by one of these bacterial proteins is similar in guinea pigs and humans, allowing for the use of guinea pigs as models of orally acquired listeriosis. Cossart also developed a transgenic mouse strain that carries the human version of the membrane receptor, making it the first animal model to overcome the species-specificity of a bacterial disease.

Cossart was awarded bachelor of science and master's degrees by Lille University, France, in 1968, and a master of science degree by Georgetown University in 1971. In 1977, she received a Ph.D. from Paris VII University, France. She joined the Institut Pasteur in 1971 and was head of the listeria molecular genetics laboratory there from 1991 until 1994. In 1994, she became head of the bacterial-cellular interactions unit at the institute, a position she still holds.

Her many honors and prizes include the Louis Pasteur Gold Medal from the Swedish Society of Medicine, awarded in 2000, and the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur, bestowed in 1998. She is a member of the German Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina as well as the French Académie des Sciences. She is currently a Howard Hughes Medical Institute international research scholar and serves on the editorial boards of nearly a dozen journals.

The lecture honors Margaret Pittman, who made significant contributions to microbiology and vaccine development during her long career at NIAID. Pittman was NIH's first woman laboratory chief. Her contributions to pertussis and tetanus vaccine development were of critical importance.

The lecture is part of the NIH Director's Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series. For more information, contact Hilda Madine at 594-5595.

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