Department of Animal Sciences
Rodney Johnson

Rodney Johnson

4 Animal Sciences Laboratory
1207 W. Gregory
Urbana, IL 61801
(217) 333-2118


Ph.D., 1992, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
M.S., 1989, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
B.S., 1986, Truman State University, Kirksville, Missouri

Research Areas

Nutritional neuroscience with emphasis on how nutrition and diet affect brain development and cognitive function.

We study the effects of nutrition on brain development, function, and aging. A special focus is on how diet influences the communication between the immune system and brain. This is a promising new interdisciplinary field for nutritionists. Inflammatory molecules produced in peripheral tissues and in brain have profound effects on brain development and function. Several naturally occurring bioactives present in fruits and vegetables inhibit intracellular signaling pathways and are anti-inflammatory in the brain and have been shown to inhibit cognitive aging. Because our studies are mechanistic, the results are broadly applicable to many conditions with an inflammatory component including obesity, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and even aging. Another area of research in our lab is on neonatal nutrition. A piglet model is used, wherein state-of-the-art behavioral and neuroimaging techniques are combined to track how experiential influences (e.g., diet, infection) affect brain development and function. We are particularly interested in the finger print created during development, and how it contributes to complex multi-factorial diseases that emerge later in life (e.g., obesity). Graduate students in this lab receive interdisciplinary training.


2009-present Director, Division of Nutritional Sciences
2003-present Professor of Integrative Biology, Department of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana
1998-2003 Associate Professor of Integrative Biology, Department of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana
1995-present Division of Nutritional Sciences Faculty, University of Illinois, Urbana
1994-present Neuroscience Program Faculty, University of Illinois, Urbana
1997-1998 Fellow, Center for Advanced Study, University of Illinois, Urbana
1993-1998 Assistant Professor of Integrative Biology, Department of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana
1992-1993 Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Animal Science, Iowa State University

Journal Articles

Conrad, M. S., R. N. Dilger, and R. W. Johnson. 2012. Brain growth in the domestic pig (Sus scrofa) from 2 to 24 weeks of age: A longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging study. Dev. Neurosci. (in press).
Elmore, M. R., R. N. Dilger, and R. W. Johnson. 2012. Direction learning in a spatial T-maze task by neonatal piglets. Anim. Cognition 15:667-676.
Jurgens, H. A. and R. W. Johnson. 2012. Environmental enrichment attenuates hippocampal neuroinflammation and improves cognitive function during influenza infection. Brain Behav. Immun. 26:1006-1016.
Jurgens, H. A., K. Amancherla, and R. W. Johnson. 2012. Influenza infection induces neuroinflammation, alters hippocampal neuron morphology and impairs cognition in adult mice. J. Neurosci. 32:3958-3968.
Jang, S. K. W. Kelley, and R. W. Johnson. 2008. Luteolin reduces interleukin-6 production in microglia by inhibiting c-Jun N-terminal kinase phosphorylation and activation of AP-1. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 105:7534-7539.
Dantzer, R., J. C. O’Connor, G. G. Freund, R. W. Johnson, and K. W. Kelley. 2008. From inflammation to sickness and depression: When the immune system subjugates the brain. Nature Rev. Neurosci. 9:46-56.