Erin Harberts, Ph.D.



Contact Info

Science Complex, Room 5150P


B.A., Molecular Biology, Colgate University
Post-Bac Fellow, Viral Immunology, NINDS, NIH
Ph.D, Microbiology and Immunology, University of Maryland School of Medicine
Post-Doc Fellow, Microbial Pathogenesis, University of Maryland School of Dentistry

Areas of Expertise

Innate Immunity, Cell Signaling, Host-Pathogen Interactions


Innate immune signaling molecules called pattern recognition receptors (PRR) recognize conserved molecular signatures from every order of life including plants, fungi, bacteria, viruses, and mammals. Recognition of a ligand by PRR leads to specific immediate upregulation of immune responses that are tailored to appropriately respond to the stimuli detected. These signaling pathways represent a mechanism for organisms to communicate and adapt to the environment they are living in and defend against changes and infections that threaten survival. My research investigates the structure-activity relationship (SAR) of innate immune ligands and PRR.
Current research projects in my lab fall focus on the following themes:
1. Development of novel innate immune ligands using bacterial enzyme combinatorial chemistry (Molecular Biology)
2. Investigating effect of innate immune ligand structure in cell death and DNA repair (Cell Biology)
3. Detection of food contaminants and environmental ligands using PRR (Immunology/Ecology)
4. Manipulation of immune responses in disease including sepsis, cancer, and allergy (Immunology/Physiology)


Harberts EM, Grubaugh D, Akuma D, Shin S, Ernst RK, Brodsky I. (2022) Position-specific secondary acylation determines detection of lipid A by murine TLR4 and caspase-11. Infection and Immunity. Jul 14:e0020122. PMID: 35862717

Alexander-Floyd J, Bass AR, Harberts EM, Grubaugh D, Buxbaum JD, Brodsky IE, Ernst RK, Shin S. (2022) Lipid A variants activate human TLR4 and noncanonical inflammasome differently and require the core oligosaccharide for inflammasome activation. Infection and Immunity. Jul 14:e0020822. PMID: 35862709

Chandler CE, Harberts E, Pelletier MR, Thaipisttikul I, Jones JW, Hajjar AM, Sahl J, Goodlett DR, Pride AC, Rasko DA, Trent MS, Bishop RE, Ernst RK. (2020) Early evolutionary loss of the lipid A modifying enzyme PagP allows for innate immune evasion in Yersinia pestis. PNAS. 117(37):22984-22991. PMID: 32868431

Harberts E, Liang T, Yoon SH, Opene BN, McFarland M, Goodlett DR, Ernst RK. (2020) TLR4-independent effects of LPS identified using longitudinal serum proteomics. Journal of Proteome Research. 19(3): 1258-1266. PMID: 32037835

Chandler CE, Harberts EM, Laemmermann T, Zeng Q, Opene BN, Germain RN, Jewell C, Scott AJ, Ernst RK. (2018) In vivo intradermal delivery of bacteria using microneedle arrays. Infect Immun. 86(9):e00406-18. PMID: 29986891

Gregg KA, Harberts E, Gardner FM, Pelletier MR, Cayatte C, Yu L, McCarthy MP, Marshall JD, and Ernst RK. (2017) Rationally Designed TLR4 Ligands for Vaccine Adjuvant Discovery. MBio. 8(3). pii: e00492-17. PMID: 28487429

Harberts E, Fishelevich R, Liu J, Atamas SP, Gaspari AA.  MyD88 mediates the decision to die by apoptosis or necroptosis after UV irradiation.  Innate Immunity. 2014. 20(5): 529-39.  PMID: 24048771

Harberts E, Gaspari AA. TLR signaling and DNA repair: Are they associated?  J of Investigative Dermatology. 2013. 133(2): 296-302.  PMID: 22931928

*for a comprehensive list of publications 

Courses Taught

  • BIOL 421/521: Immunology
  • BIOL 409: Molecular Biology