Spencer Lab

The completion of the genome sequences of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, M. leprae and other mycobacterial species has led to a greater understanding of host-pathogen interactions of these intracellular human pathogens. Although humans are considered the main host of M. leprae, research in our laboratory has contributed to findings that M. leprae has adapted to other mammalian species including red squirrels in the British Isles, armadillos in Brazil and Mexico and recently wild chimpanzees in Guinea-Bissau and Ivory Coast, West Africa, leading to speculation that M. leprae is capable of adapting to other animal or environmental reservoirs. Dr. Spencer spends up to 2-3 months a year working in the laboratory of Dr. Claudio Salgado in Marituba, Pará, Brazil on leprosy research and field surveillance activities with the support of two Fulbright Scholar to Brazil awards in 2015-2016 and 2019-2020.

Our research is focused on the following:

  1. Understanding the humoral and cell-mediated immune responses to mycobacterial infection, mainly tuberculosis and leprosy.
  2. Identifying biomarkers of infection detected by anti-PGL-I serology, cytokine/chemokine assays, metabolomics or by molecular means (PCR, microRNA).
  3. Working with an international consortium of leprosy researchers in Brazil and the Netherlands to develop a simple lateral flow device that detects both antibody and cell-mediated responses to M. leprae antigens that can identify those asymptomatic individuals who are progressing towards disease.
  4. Identifying novel M. leprae strain types and drug resistance markers circulating in human clinical isolates and animal species performed by post-doctoral researcher Dr. Charlotte Avanzi.

The overall goals of the above projects are geared towards the development of new diagnostic tools capable of diagnosing leprosy early prior to the development of nerve damage, disfigurement and disability, and identifying other environmental or animal reservoirs of this pathogen.

research project

Use of Immunological and Genetic Markers to Understand Infection and Transmission of Mycobacterium Leprae in Brazil

A consortium of leprosy researchers from CSU, Fiocruz Brazil, and the Federal University of Para, Brazil seek to identify immunological and genetic markers to understand leprosy infection and transmission in Brazil and develop new tools to increase the effectiveness of leprosy control programs targeting high-risk populations living in a hyperendemic area.


Clinically relevant mutations in the PhoR sensor kinase of host-adapted Mycobacterium abscessus isolates impact response to acidic pH and virulence.
Belardinelli JM, Arora D, Avanzi C, Wheat WH, Bryant JM, Spencer JS, Blundell TL, Parkhill J, Floto RA, Jackson M. Microbiol Spectr. 2023 Dec 12;11(6):e0158823. doi: 10.1128/spectrum.01588-23. Epub 2023 Oct 24. PMID: 37874174

Investigating transmission of SARS-CoV-2 using novel face mask sampling: a protocol for an observational prospective study of index cases and their contacts in a congregate setting.
Jaenisch T, Lamb MM, Gallichotte EN, Adams B, Henry C, Riess J, van Sickle JT, Hawkins KL, Montague BT, Coburn C, Conners Bauer L, Kovarik J, Hernandez MT, Bronson A, Graham L, James S, Hanenberg S, Kovacs J, Spencer JS, Zabel M, Fox PD, Pluss O, Windsor W, Winstanley G, Olson D, Barer M, Berman S, Ebel G, Chu M. BMJ Open. 2022 Nov 23;12(11):e061029. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2022-061029. PMID: 36418127

Editorial: Leprosy reactions: New knowledge on pathophysiology, diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
Pinheiro RO, Rosa PS, Spencer JS, Soares CT. Front Med (Lausanne). 2022 Nov 1;9:1072274. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2022.1072274. eCollection 2022. PMID: 36388943

ELISA Test Based on the Phenolic Glycolipid-I (PGL-I) of Mycobacterium leprae: A Reality of a Laboratory from a Non-Endemic Country.
Longoni SS, Beltrame A, Prato M, Spencer JS, Bergamaschi N, Clapasson A, Parodi A, Piubelli C, Perandin F. Pathogens. 2022 Aug 9;11(8):894. doi: 10.3390/pathogens11080894. PMID: 36015014

Mycobacterium leprae Infection in a Wild Nine-Banded Armadillo, Nuevo León, Mexico.
Vera-Cabrera L, Ramos-Cavazos CJ, Youssef NA, Pearce CM, Molina-Torres CA, Avalos-Ramirez R, Gagneux S, Ocampo-Candiani J, Gonzalez-Juarrero M, Mayorga-Rodriguez JA, Mayorga-Garibaldi L, Spencer JS, Jackson M, Avanzi C. Emerg Infect Dis. 2022 Mar;28(3):747-749. doi: 10.3201/eid2803.211295. PMID: 35202538

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John Spencer, Ph.D.

Lab Principal Investigator
Associate Professor

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contact information

Office: Microbiology room B208

Lab: Microbiology room C210

(970) 491-3525