Professor Joan Geoghegan BA, PhD

Professor Joan Geoghegan

Institute of Microbiology and Infection
Professor in Microbiology and Infection

Contact details

University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Joan Geoghegan’s research focuses on defining bacterial factors underlying the success of Staphylococcus aureus as a human pathogen. She is interested in elucidating mechanisms used by the bacterium to interact with host proteins and cells and to resist clearance by the immune system and interference from other microbes. A major aim of this work is to identify new targets for the treatment and prevention of bacterial infection.


  • PG Diploma in Educational Studies (Higher Education), Trinity College Dublin
  • PhD in Microbiology, Trinity College Dublin
  • BA (Hons) in Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin


Joan Geoghegan is a Royal Society Wolfson Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Microbiology and Infection. Her research career has focused on understanding the molecular basis of colonisation and infection by Staphylococcus aureus. Her PhD training at Trinity College Dublin with Tim Foster involved the biochemical and biophysical characterisation of staphylococcal fibrinogen-binding proteins, carrying out part of her thesis work with Magnus Höök (Texas A&M University). This work led to a redefinition of the ligand binding site within the fibrinogen binding protein ClfA. As a postdoctoral researcher, Dr Geoghegan initiated early studies on the molecular basis of protein-mediated biofilm accumulation in S. aureus. In 2012 she established her research group studying staphylococcal pathogenesis at Trinity College Dublin and in 2020 she was appointed to the Institute of Microbiology and Infection at the University of Birmingham.


Biomedical Science – Year 3

Postgraduate supervision

Joan has supervised 6 PhD students to completion to date.

The lab is interested in hearing from potential PhD students with an interest in studying the molecular aspects of bacterial colonisation and virulence.

Contact Joan by email.


Dr Geoghegan’s research focuses on understanding how Staphylococcus aureus, one of the most important human pathogens, successfully colonises and establishes invasive infection.

This involves the study of bacterial factors promoting interaction with host proteins, cells and tissues and allowing persistence in the human body. Building a better understanding of the key interactions occurring between the pathogen and host will provide an opportunity to precisely target molecular interactions to prevent and treat human infection.

Key areas of investigation include:

The molecular basis of colonisation. The human nose is the main site of asymptomatic colonisation in healthy humans with colonisation being a major risk factor for infection. Our research aims to further fundamental knowledge of the mechanisms used by S. aureus to persist in the nasal cavity. The other colonisation niche we investigate is the skin’s stratum corneum, particularly atopic dermatitis skin lesions which are particularly susceptible to colonisation and infection by S. aureus. We are investigating how bacteria interact with host corneocytes and how this influences skin colonisation.

The impact of copper hypertolerance systems on fitness and antimicrobial resistance. Epidemic strains of methicillin resistant S. aureus (MRSA) possess copper hypertolerance genes (CHGs) that detoxify copper. These are located on the same mobile genetic elements as antimicrobial resistance genes. We aim to understand how CHGs impact MRSA colonisation and pathogenesis and to determine the potential for copper to promote acquisition and retention of antimicrobial resistance genes.

The mechanistic basis of biofilm formation. Growing as biofilm communities on catheters, heart valves and artificial joints, bacteria avoid being killed by antibiotics and the human immune system. We are investigating the molecular basis of protein-mediated biofilm formation in MRSA and strategies to target the protein linkages that hold bacteria together in a biofilm.

Mechanisms of ligand binding by cell-wall anchored proteins. We are interested in understanding the ligand binding activity of cell wall-anchored proteins at the molecular level, as well as uncovering how this activity is modulated in the complex infection milieu.

Other activities

  • Member of the Microbiology Society Scientific Conferences Panel
  • Member of the Microbiology Society Building Communities Committee
  • Chair of the Irish Division of Microbiology Society
  • Member of the 'State of Microbiology' expert working group of Microbiology Society surveying and analysing the current landscape of microbiology education and research in the UK and Ireland
  • Member of the Society for Applied Microbiology
  • Member of the American Society for Microbiology


Recent publications


Paiva, TO, Geoghegan, JA & Dufrêne, YF 2023, 'High-force catch bonds between the Staphylococcus aureus surface protein SdrE and complement regulator factor H drive immune evasion', Communications Biology, vol. 6, no. 1, 302.

Paiva, TO, Viljoen, A, da Costa, TM, Geoghegan, JA & Dufrêne, YF 2023, 'Interaction of the Staphylococcus aureus surface protein FnBPB with corneodesmosin involves two distinct, extremely strong bonds', ACS nanoscience Au, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 58-66.

Muñoz-Wolf, N, Ward, RW, Hearnden, CH, Sharp, FA, Geoghegan, J, O'Grady, K, McEntee, CP, Shanahan, KA, Guy, C, Bowie, AG, Campbell, M, Roces, CB, Anderluzzi, G, Webb, C, Perrie, Y, Creagh, E & Lavelle, EC 2023, 'Non-canonical inflammasome activation mediates the adjuvanticity of nanoparticles', Cell Reports Medicine, vol. 4, no. 1, 100899.

Li, S, Bettoni, S, Mohlin, F, Geoghegan, JA, Blom, AM & Laabei, M 2023, 'Recruitment of C4b-binding protein is not a complement evasion strategy employed by Staphylococcus aureus', Microbiology, vol. 169, no. 9, 001391.

Clark, LC, Atkin, KE, Whelan, F, Brentnall, AS, Harris, G, Towell, AM, Turkenburg, JP, Liu, Y, Feizi, T, Griffiths, SC, Geoghegan, JA & Potts, JR 2023, 'Staphylococcal Periscope Proteins Aap, SasG and Pls project non-canonical legume-like lectin adhesin domains from the bacterial surface', The Journal of biological chemistry, vol. 299, no. 3, 102936.

Henderson, SR & Geoghegan, JA 2023, 'The A domain of clonal complex 1-type fibronectin binding protein B promotes adherence and biofilm formation in Staphylococcus aureus', Microbiology, vol. 169, no. 6, 001348.

Motta, C, Pellegrini, A, Camaione, S, Geoghegan, J, Speziale, P, Barbieri, G & Pietrocola, G 2023, 'von Willebrand factor-binding protein (vWbp)-activated factor XIII and transglutaminase 2 (TG2) promote cross-linking between FnBPA from Staphylococcus aureus and fibrinogen', Scientific Reports, vol. 13, no. 1, 11683 .

Prencipe, F, Alsibaee, A, Khaddem, Z, Norton, P, Towell, AM, Ali, AFM, Reid, G, Fleury, OM, Foster, TJ, Geoghegan, JA, Rozas, I & Brennan, MP 2022, 'Allantodapsone is a Pan-Inhibitor of Staphylococcus aureus Adhesion to Fibrinogen, Loricrin, and Cytokeratin 10', Microbiology spectrum, vol. 10, no. 3, e0117521.

da Costa, TM, Viljoen, A, Towell, AM, Dufrêne, YF & Geoghegan, JA 2022, 'Fibronectin binding protein B binds to loricrin and promotes corneocyte adhesion by Staphylococcus aureus', Nature Communications, vol. 13, no. 1, 2517.

Martínez-Carmona, M, Cela, C, Kuznetsova, VA, Geoghegan, JA & Gun'ko, YK 2021, 'Enantioselective effect of cysteine functionalized mesoporous silica nanoparticles in U87 MG and GM08680 human cells and Staphylococcus aureus bacteria', Journal of Materials Chemistry B, vol. 9, no. 16, pp. 3544-3553.

Towell, AM, Feuillie, C, Vitry, P, Da Costa, TM, Mathelié-Guinlet, M, Kezic, S, Fleury, OM, McAleer, MA, Dufrêne, YF, Irvine, AD & Geoghegan, JA 2021, 'Staphylococcus aureus binds to the N-terminal region of corneodesmosin to adhere to the stratum corneum in atopic dermatitis', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 118, no. 1, e2014444118.

Saunders, SP, Floudas, A, Moran, T, Byrne, CM, Rooney, MD, Fahy, CMR, Geoghegan, JA, Iwakura, Y, Fallon, PG & Schwartz, C 2020, 'Dysregulated skin barrier function in Tmem79 mutant mice promotes IL-17A-dependent spontaneous skin and lung inflammation', Allergy, vol. 75, no. 12, pp. 3216-3227.

Dorman, CJ & Geoghegan, J 2020, 'Editorial overview: Bacterial regulatory hierarchies and networks', Current Opinion in Microbiology, vol. 55, pp. iii-v.

Olatunji, S, Yu, X, Bailey, J, Huang, C-Y, Zapotoczna, M, Bowen, K, Remškar, M, Müller, R, Scanlan, EM, Geoghegan, JA, Olieric, V & Caffrey, M 2020, 'Structures of lipoprotein signal peptidase II from Staphylococcus aureus complexed with antibiotics globomycin and myxovirescin', Nature Communications, vol. 11, no. 1, 140.

Lacey, KA, Mulcahy, ME, Towell, AM, Geoghegan, JA & McLoughlin, RM 2019, 'Clumping factor B is an important virulence factor during Staphylococcus aureus skin infection and a promising vaccine target', PLoS pathogens, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. e1007713.

View all publications in research portal