The body's defenders: working overtime
The immune system is an intricately balanced physiological system that is tasked with defending an organism from foreign invaders.
Much like the stress response, if these responses are engaged inefficiently, keep working after the threat has been dealt with, or don't mount the appropriate response, the organism suffers. This can lead to insufficient or exaggerated responses to pathogens (e.g. bacteria or viruses), while also leading to increased basal activity of inflammatory processes, contributing to many different pathophysiological effects. Remarkably, the immune system is also regulated by the circadian clock, with some times of day resulting in more serious effects of infections, while at other times of day, organisms seem more protected.
Our goal in the lab is to understand the mechanisms by which the circadian clock regulates immune function both in the brain and the periphery, particularly in response to pathogens.
Specifically, we are focusing on achieving the following goals:
1) Probing the influence of the circadian clock on the immune system, particularly in the realm of innate immune responses, but also in the context of inflammatory tone.
2) Understanding how disrupted circadian timing might exacerbate immune responses to pathogens, leading to compromised innate immune responses, and negative health outcomes.
We investigate these areas both in the brain (e.g. neuroimmune function), behavior (e.g. sickness behaviors), and in the periphery (e.g. host defense), since a core concept in the lab is attention to brain-body interactions
We use a combination of approaches, including detailed in vivo analyses of behavior and changes in metabolic function, as well as ex vivo approaches, including gene expression, immunohistochemistry, and measures of change in immune mediators in plasma and tissues.
Our recent work using these techniques can be found in our Publications and Research and News sections.