Dr. Margaret Whalen



Dr. Margaret Whalen
Department of Chemistry

B.S., Chemistry, Dakota School of Mines & Technology
Ph.D., Biochemistry, University of New Mexico School of Medicine

Phone: (615) 963.5247
Email: mwhalen@tnstate.edu

Human natural killer (NK) lymphocytes play a central role in immune defense against viruses and tumors. NK cells are capable of killing (lysing) tumor cells and virally infected cells. They are responsible for limiting the spread of blood-borne metastases as well as limiting the development of primary tumors. Any agent that interferes with the ability of NK cells to lyse their targets could increase the risk of tumor incidence and/or viral infections. Studies in our laboratory have assessed the capacity of a variety of compounds, known to contaminate the environment, to interfere with this crucial immune function. Compounds found to interfere with the immune function of the NK cell are further examined for their capacity to alter the biochemical pathways needed by the NK cell to carry out its functions. This involves monitoring the effects of the compound on the expression of particular proteins such as those involved in the killing (lysis) of tumor and viral cells, granzyme B and perforin, as well as cell-surface proteins required for binding to tumor and virally-infected cells. Additionally, enzymes known to be important in regulating the lytic process such as protein tyrosine kinases, phospholipase C gamma, protein kinase C, and mitogen activated protein kinases (MAPK) are examined for changes in response to these compounds. To date we have screened more than 40 compounds for their ability to interfere with NK cell function and have found 19 compounds that interfere with function.