Professor Ian Henderson PhD

Institute of Microbiology and Infection
Professor of Microbial Biology

Contact details

Institute of Microbiology and Infection
College of Medical and Dental Sciences
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Ian has published over 100 articles in the fields of bacteriology, biochemistry and infection immunology. He has received several major grants including from the Medical Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, EU and Wellcome Trust PhD programme in Antimicrobials and Antimicrobial Resistance.

Ian is enthusiastic about public engagement in the Sciences and has given frequent talks to various groups at both the local and national level. He helped set up the Medicine Matters exhibit at the ThinkTank, Birmingham’s contemporary science museum. Ian frequently contributes to both the local and national media.


  • Ph.D. Molecular Microbiology, Trinity College Dublin, 1991-1996
  • B.Sc. (Hons) 2.i. Microbiology (Chemistry minor), University College Dublin, 1986-1990


Professor Henderson began his academic studies reading an Honours degree in Microbiology at University College Dublin. After University he worked as a research assistant position studying HIV at the Wellcome Laboratories. He then returned to study for a PhD in molecular bacteriology at Trinity College Dublin. The success of his PhD led to a productive postdoctoral position at the Centre for Vaccine Development, University of Maryland, USA working with Professor James Nataro. After his postdoctoral studies, he took up a faculty position in Queens University Belfast before rapidly transitioning to the University of Birmingham. At Birmingham he established a group investigating bacterial cell envelope biology and genomics and developed an expansive network of University-wide collaborations. Professor Henderson has been involved with the Microbiology Society for over 15 years.  He previously served as chair of the Prokaryotic Division and as an elected member of council. He has been an editor for several Microbiology journals and has served on a variety of grant-awarding bodies.


Teaching Programmes

BMedSci Years 1, 2 and 3

Postgraduate supervision

Ian is interested in supervising doctoral research students in the following areas:

  • Pathogenesis of Salmonella, E. coli and Pseudomonas infections
  • The genetic and biochemical basis of outer membrane integrity
  • The biochemical understanding of bacterial protein secretion mechanisms
  • Immune responses to bacterial surface proteins

If you are interesting in studying any of these subject areas please contact Ian using the contact details above, or for any general doctoral research enquiries, please email:

For a full list of available Doctoral Research opportunities, please visit our Doctoral Research programme listings.   


Research Themes

Protein secretion, Cell envelope biology, Bacterial pathogenesis, Immune response to Bacterial infections, Antimicrobials.

Research Activity

My research interests focus on the bacterial cell surface. This focus is based on the philosophy that the bacterial cell surface offers a rich source of molecules which can be utilized and adapted to treat or prevent infections.

Pathogenesis of Infection

Secreted proteins are the main nodes of interaction between pathogens and the host. Professor Henderson’s group utilises a variety of approaches to study the different mechanisms by which secreted proteins influence infection. Key outcomes to these investigations include (i) the discovery of antibody dependent enhancement of infection; (ii) elucidating why HIV patients are more susceptible to non-typhoidal Salmonella infections (Professor Cal MacLennan’s group led this study); (iii) understanding how the immune system senses and responds to particular surface antigens (Professor Adam Cunningham’s group have led these studies); and (iv) demonstrating that not all surface proteins can elicit a protective immune response.  This discovery was made by investigating Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections in adults with bronchiectasis and led to a novel treatment.

Outer membrane protein biogenesis

The outer membranes of Gram-negative bacteria are lipid bilayers. They consist of a phospholipid inner leaflet and a lipopolysaccharide outer leaflet with two major classes of protein: b-barrel proteins (OMPs) and peripheral lipoproteins. These four major components provide an interface between the bacterium and its environment; they work in concert to protect the organism from noxious substances while permitting the selective uptake of nutrients. To survive bacteria must produce OMPs that directly or indirectly allow the organism to sense the environment, to move, to stick to inanimate surfaces, host cells or each other, to exchange genetic material, to evade host defences and in the case of pathogens, to cause disease. Furthermore, OMPs are exposed, elicit immune responses and are targets of antibody and therefore a source of antigens for vaccines. In Gram-negative bacteria Antibiotic resistance is often dependent on the OMP diffusion porins (e.g. OmpF/C) and transenvelope spanning efflux complexes (e.g. ArcAB-TolC). Therefore, understanding the nature of outer membrane is crucial to the development of strategies to prevent and treat infections. For the last 5 years Professor Henderson’s group has investigated the molecular basis for outer membrane protein biogenesis. 


Protein secretion machines are the instruments of microbial warfare! Using these machines bacteria produce adhesins, toxins, enzymes and mediators of motility. These proteins are either secreted to or beyond the bacterial cell surface. These secreted proteins may interact directly with host cells resulting in disease. The simplest and most widely utilised secretion systems fall under the rubric of Type 5 secretion systems (T5SS). This category comprises those proteins secreted by the classical Autotransporter system, the two-partner system and the trimeric Autotransporter system. The importance of proteins secreted via the T5SS is illustrated by the fact that in some cases they form part of current human vaccines; thus filamentous haemagglutinin and pertactin are essential components of the acellular whooping cough vaccine. Furthermore, Autotransporters are often essential virulence factors and in the case of Shigella, the agent of bacillary dysentery, abolition of the gene encoding the Autotransporter IcsA results in an attenuated strain which forms the basis for a live attenuated Shigella vaccine. Thus, further understanding of these proteins may lead to greater healthcare benefits. For the last 17 years Professor Henderson’s work has focussed on group the Autotransporter proteins. This work has ranged from investigating the mechanisms of gene regulation, the molecular mechanisms of biogenesis, interaction of proteins with host cells and exploiting the system for commercial protein production.

Bacterial Genomics

Professor Henderson’s group have been involved in sequencing bacterial genomes for over 10 years. Utilising Sanger, Illumina and 454 technologies Professor Henderson’s group have completed the genomes of the type strains for several diarrheal pathogens. These organisms place a huge societal and economic burden on populations in developing countries and afflict the youngest disproportionately. They are among the largest killers of children under age 5. The genome sequences provide the basis for developing strategies to tackle these sinister organisms. As a result of these studies Professor Henderson and Dr Nick Loman were awarded funding from BBSRC to establish MicrobesNG, a rapid and inexpensive microbial genome sequencing service.

Other activities

Some recent awards

  • 2015 Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology
  • 2014 University of Birmingham “Excellence in supervision” award
  • 2013 Enterprising Birmingham Award
  • 2011-2012 Royal Society of Edinburgh Enterprise Fellowship
  • 2009-2010 Medici Fellowship
  • 2009 Universitas 21 Fellowship
  • 1996 SGM Young Microbiologist of the Year

Some recent positions, offices and distinctions held

  • 2015-2019 BBSRC Appointed core member of Panel B
  • 2015-2016 RCUK Member of expert panel UK cross council on Antimicrobial Resistance
  • 2015 University College Cork Lead for Microbiology on Research Quality Review panel
  • 2015 Deptartment of Health - Wellcome Working Party on Alternatives to Antibiotics
  • 2012-2016 University of Strathclyde External examiner for Microbiology
  • 2011-2015 Society for General Microbiology Member of Council
  • 2007-2011 Society for General Microbiology Prokaryotic Division Chair and Chair-Elect
  • 2005-2008  Society of General Microbiology Convener of the Cell and Cell Surfaces Committee
  • 2005-2008 Microbiology Associate Editor


Nichols KB, Totsika M, Moriel DG, Lo AW, Yang J, Wurpel DJ, Rossiter AE, Strugnell RA, Henderson IR, Ulett GC, Beatson SA and Schembri MA (2016) Molecular characterisation of the Vacuolating Autotransporter Toxin in Uropathogenic Escherichia coli. J Bacteriol [Epub ahead of print]

Czaplewski L, Bax R, Clokie M, Dawson M, Fairhead H, Fischetti VA, Foster S, Gilmore BF, Hancock RE, Harper D, Henderson IR, Hilpert K, Jones BV, Kadioglu A, Knowles D, Ólafsdóttir S, Payne D, Projan S, Shaunak S, Silverman J, Thomas CM, Trust TJ, Warn P and Rex JH (2016) Alternatives to antibiotics - a pipeline portfolio review. Lancet Infect Dis [Epub ahead of print]

Watson CN, SW Kerrigan, D Cox, IR Henderson, SP Watson and M Arman (2015) Human platelet activation by Escherichia coli: roles for FcγRIIA and integrin αIIbβ3. Platelets [In Press]

Hitchcock JR, Cook CN, Bobat S, Ross EA, Flores-Langarica A, Lowe KL, Khan M, Dominguez-Medina CC, Lax S, Carvalho-Gaspar M, Hubscher S, Rainger GE, Cobbold M, Buckley CD, Mitchell TJ, Mitchell A, Jones ND, van Rooijen N, Kirchhofer D, Henderson IR, Adams SH, Watson SP and Cunningham AF (2015) Inflammation drives thrombosis after Salmonella infection via CLEC-2 on platelets. J Clin Invest 125(12):4429-46

Flores-Langarica A, Bobat S, Marshall JL, Yam-Puc JC, Cook CN, Serre K, Kingsley RA, Flores-Romo L, Uematsu S, Akira S, Henderson IR, Toellner KM and Cunningham AF (2015) Soluble flagellin co-immunization attenuates Th1 priming to Salmonella and clearance by modulating dendritic cell activation and cytokine production. Eur J Immunol 45(8):2299-311

Browning DF, Bavro VN, Mason JL, Sevastsyanovich YR, Rossiter AE, Jeeves M, Wells TJ, Knowles TJ, Cunningham AF, Donald JW, Palmer T, Overduin M and Henderson IR (2015) Cross-species chimeras reveal BamA POTRA and β-barrel domains must be fine-tuned for efficient OMP insertion. Mol Microbiol 97(4):646-59

Rossiter AE, Godfrey RE, Connolly JA, Busby SJ, Henderson IR and Browning DF (2015) Expression of different bacterial cytotoxins is controlled by two global transcription factors, CRP and Fis, that co-operate in a shared-recruitment mechanism. Biochem J 466(2):323-35

Bobat S, Darby M, Mrdjen D, Cook C, Logan E, Auret J, Jones E, Schnoeller C, Flores-Langarica A, Ross EA, Vira A, López-Macías C, Henderson IR, Alexander J, Brombacher F, Horsnell WG and Cunningham AF (2014) Natural and vaccine-mediated immunity to Salmonella Typhimurium is impaired by the helminth Nippostrongylus brasiliensis. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 8(12):e3341

View all publications in research portal


Microbial Biology.