Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2018

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Houtman, Jon C. D.

First Committee Member

Bishop, Gail

Second Committee Member

Schlievert, Patrick

Third Committee Member

Perlman, Stanley

Fourth Committee Member

Colgan, John


The T cell receptor (TCR) activation induced signaling cascade is a major driver of T cell effector responses such as cytokine production and actin cytoskeletal rearrangement. Characterizing chemical modulators of this pathway has the benefits of both revealing basic science knowledge about these signaling processes and providing foundation for development of novel therapeutics.

Glycerol Monolaurate (GML) is a naturally occurring fatty acid monoester that is found as a monoglyceride in human breast milk and coconut oil. It is widely utilized in food, cosmetics, and homeopathic supplements. GML is a potent antimicrobial agent that targets a wide range of bacteria, fungi, and enveloped viruses. Because of this, GML has been developed as a preventative for menstrual associated Toxic Shock Syndrome, and is being tested to prevent HIV transmission and superficial skin infections. Interestingly, GML suppresses mitogen induced lymphocyte proliferation and inositol triphosphate production, suggesting that GML has immunomodulatory functions.

This thesis mechanistically examined how GML affects human primary T cells. Chapter III describes how GML potently altered order and disorder dynamics in the plasma membrane that resulted in reduced membrane-localized clustering of the proteins LAT, PLC-γ, and AKT, events integral for proper TCR signal propagation. Altered membrane signaling events induced selective inhibition of TCR-induced signaling events. Specifically GML reduced the phosphorylation of the regulatory P85 subunit of PI3K, and AKT and abrogated calcium influx. Functionally, GML treatment potently reduced TCR-induced production of the cytokines IL-2, IFN-γ, TNF-α, and IL-10. Chapter V shows that GML causes the mis-localization of the ARPC3 subunit of the Arp2/3 complex that leads to the formation of abnormal filopodia structures, and reduced cellular adhesion. Chapter V shows that human serum albumin binds directly to GML on the 12 carbon acyl chain. This interaction reverses GML induced suppression of TCR-induced formation of LAT, PLC-γ1, and AKT microclusters at the plasma membrane, AKT phosphorylation, and cytokine production.

These findings establish GML as a T cell suppressive agent in addition to an antimicrobial agent. This observation reveals the potential role of naturally occurring GML in human breast milk in the formation of microbiota and immune tolerance in the infant gastrointestinal tract. It also allows for optimization of the current applications of GML in various commercial products and therapeutic strategies. Finally this information provides the rationale to investigate GML in new remedial avenues as a topical agent to treat excessive inflammation in the skin, and vaginal and gut mucosal regions.


Actin, Albumin, Glycerol Monolaurate, T cell, T cell receptor signaling


xiii, 127 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 116-127).


Copyright © 2018 Michael Sining Zhang

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Microbiology Commons