The Univeristy of Melbourne The Royal Melbourne Hopspital

A joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital


Research Projects

Project: MR1 – a molecular detection system for bacteria

Villadangos Group

MR1 functions as a molecular ‘alarm system’ to detect a diverse range of microbes – to alert the immune system of infectious bacteria or to monitor our microbiome. It does this by capturing metabolite by-products from bacteria and presenting them at the cell surface to activate a highly abundant T cell subset, called mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells. MR1 is a highly conserved piece of the mammalian immune repertoire, yet basic aspects of it are not well understood. Several projects are offered that will examine these important questions to reveal how MR1 contributes to human health: (i) to investigate the molecular machinery underpinning MR1’s function and expression, using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing and cutting-edge cell biology techniques; (ii) to investigate how cells capture and traffic microbial metabolites for loading onto MR1 molecules, using chemical biology and proteomics; and (iii) to uncover how antigen presenting cells mediate the maintenance of the microbiome by MAIT cells, using proteomics and single-cell transcriptomics.



Dr Hamish McWilliam

Prof Jose Villadangos


Further reading:

HEG McWilliam, … and JA Villadangos. 2016. The intracellular pathway for the presentation of vitamin B-related antigens by the antigen-presenting molecule MR1. Nat. Immunol. 17: 531-537. PMID: 27043408

HEG. McWilliam, … and JA Villadangos. 2020. Endoplasmic reticulum chaperones stabilize ligand-receptive MR1 molecules for efficient presentation of metabolite antigens. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 117: 24974-24985. PMID: 32958637

HJ Lim, … , JA Villadangos* and HEG McWilliam*. 2022. A specialized tyrosine-based endocytosis signal in MR1 controls antigen presentation to MAIT cells. J. Cell. Biol. 221: e202110125. PMID: 36129434

HEG McWilliam and JA Villadangos. 2023. MR1 Antigen Presentation to MAIT and other MR1-Restricted T Cells. Nat Rev Immunol. In press (14/08/2023).

Contact project supervisor for further
information and application enquiries

Project Supervisor

Dr Hamish McWilliam

Project Co-supervisor

Prof Jose Villadangos

Project availability
Master of Biomedical Science

Villadangos Group

6 vacancies

Viral Infectious Diseases
Antimicrobial Resistance
Bacterial and Parasitic Infections
Cross Cutting Disciplines
Discovery Research
Clinical and health systems research

The Villadangos group studies the first event that triggers adaptive immune responses: the presentation of pathogen or tumour antigens to T cells by Dendritic Cells, B cells and Macrophages. We are characterizing the development, regulation and impairment of antigen presenting cells by pathogens, inflammatory mediators and tumours. We are also dissecting the biochemical machinery involved in antigen capture, processing, and presentation. We use this knowledge to understand how T cell-dependent immunity is initiated and maintained and apply it to design better vaccines and immunotherapies against infectious agents and cancer.


All our projects are open to Honours/Master of Biomedical Science students and PhD/MPhil graduate researchers

Villadangos Group Current Projects