Research

Our goal is to understand the role of neuro-immune interactions in host defense and inflammatory diseases. We have found that peripheral sensory neurons directly sense microbes to produce pain during infection. and regulate the immune response. Neural reflex circuits that play a key role in modulating innate and adaptive immune responses. Targeting neural signaling to immune cells could lead to novel strategies to treat inflammatory and infectious diseases

Neural-immune interactions in host defense against pathogens
It is increasingly clear that the nervous system plays a powerful role in regulating the immune system during inflammation. We recently found that neuro-immune interactions participate in bacterial host defense. We aim to use targeted genetic and pharmacological tools to ascertain the role of these neuro-immune interactions in host defense against pathogens and in tissue inflammation. Sensory neurons release neuropeptides which act on their cognate receptors on immune cells to modulate immune function. We are investigating the role of these neuro-immune interactions in host defense at major barrier sites: the skin, gut, and respiratory tract. Some of the major pathogens we are investigating including Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, Salmonella enterica and Bacillus anthracis

Neuronal detection of microbes and gastrointestinal inflammation
Pain is a component of gastrointestinal diseases including inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Nociceptor neurons are the specific subset of neurons that mediate pain. They innervate the gut epithelial barrier and interact with immune cells within different anatomical portions of the GI tract. We are interested in defining how different types of gut microbes induce neuronal activity. Isolation of microbe-derived neuromodulatory factors could lead to new treatments for chronic pain and gastrointestinal diseases

Neural regulation of pulmonary immunity
The mammalian respiratory tract is densely innervated by sensory and autonomic neurons. Nociceptor sensory neurons regulate cough and bronchoconstriction. We are investigating how these neurons also regulate the immune response during infectious challenges to the respiratory tract

Neural-immune crosstalk in itch and skin inflammation
Pruriceptors are the specific subsets of sensory neurons that produce pain and itch, respectively. Atopic dermatitis is a skin disease characterized by chronic itch. Atopic dermatitis lesions are colonized by Staphylococcus aureus, a major human pathogen that could drive neural activation and itch. Pruciceptor neurons express receptors for specific immune derived factors, including lipid mediators and cytokines. We are investigating how neural sensing of bacterial products and lipid mediators could contribute to itch.