Joseph (Alex) Duncan

Joseph Alex Duncan

Associate Professor

Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases

M.D., Internal Medicine & Infectious Diseases
Ph.D., Cell Regulation
University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, Texas

Biosketch [.pdf]

Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases

Contact Information  ->>

Research Interests

  • Molecular mechanisms of activation of NLR family signaling proteins
  • Mechanisms of NLRP3-inflammasome mediated programmed necrotic cell death (pyronecrosis) and caspase-1 activation
  • Role of NLRP3-inflammasome signaling in infectious disease pathogenesis

Research Synopsis

The ability to recognize pathogens and initiate inflammatory and immunologic processes to control their spread relies on innate immune system signaling. One of the most recently identified pathogen-sensing signaling pathways involves the activation of the inflammasome, a macromolecular complex responsible for proteolytic processing of several immature cytokines (IL-1b and IL-18 in particular). The protein NLRP3 acts as a central scaffold during in the assembly of the inflammasome in response to numerous inflammatory stimuli known to induce IL-1b secretion.

We have shown that NLRP3 is an ATP binding protein and that nucleotide binding activity is critical to the ability of NLRP3 initiate inflammasome assembly. Mutations in the nucleotide-binding domain of NLRP3 can cause inherited periodic fever syndromes.  We are engaged in determining how nucleotide binding by NLRP3 is regulated and how this regulation controls signaling through this protein in response to infectious agents and mutations that induce pathologic inflammation.

View: Working model of the ATP binding cycle and activation of NLRP3 in inflammasome assembly.

In addition to cytokine processing, signaling through NLRP3 activates a novel necrotic cell death program, called pyronecrosis. Cell death programs are critical signaling pathways in multicellular organisms and represent mechanisms by which individual cells are sacrificed for the good of an organism. We hypothesize that pyronecrosis plays a physiologic role in the signaling by the NLRP3-inflammasome. We are seeking to determine the mechanisms by which the NLRP3-inflammasome executes this novel program of cell death.

We have also recently discovered that virulence factors from some pathogens (including S. aureus and N. gonorrhoeae) activate the NLRP3 inflammasome. We are now trying to determine the role of NLRP3 signaling in the pathogenesis of infectious processes caused pathogens expressing these factors.


Click here for complete list of published works (NCBI bibliography).

Contact Information

Office Location:
Molecular Biomedical Research Builiding (MBRB)
8341B (office), 8331 (lab)

Mailing Address:
CB # 7030
UNC-CH Dept. of Medicine
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7030

Office Phone: 919-843-0715
Lab Phone: 919-843-4679
Fax: 919-843-1015



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