Welcome to the website for Dr. Rodney Johnson’s Integrative Immunology and Behavior (IIB) laboratory at the University of Illinois! Dr. Johnson is a professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, Director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences, and a member of the Neuroscience Program. Research in the IIB lab develops and employs state-of-the-art techniques to investigate at the molecular, cellular, and whole animal levels, how infection, nutrient deficiencies, and birth weight affect brain and cognitive development; and how aging results in neuroinflammation and deterioration of brain health.
In the IIB lab, research on brain development uses a neonatal piglet model. Dr. Johnson and his colleagues have developed an impressive toolkit for assessing brain development and function in piglets, including a pig brain atlas to enable high-end magnetic resonance imaging to assess the impact of environmental insults on brain macrostructure (voxel-based morphometry), microstructure (diffusion tensor imaging), and chemistry (MR spectrosciopy). The neuroimaging techniques are combined with other state-of-the-art procedures for assessing behavior, microglial cell activity, neuroinflammation, neurogenesis, and neuron morphology. All of this allows the IIB lab to address critical questions in a highly tractable animal model with brain growth and development similar to humans.
For the studies on aging, the IIB lab maintains an aging mouse colony. A 2-year-old BALBc mouse is roughly the age equivalent of a 65-70 year old person. Research in this area employs state-of-the-art techniques to investigate at the molecular, cellular, and whole animal levels, the affects of aging on brain inflammation and the role of cytokines in age-associated neurobehavioral deficits. Research from the Johnson lab has shown that microglia become dysregulated in the senescent brain. Current studies are exploring age-related epigenetic changes to cytokine promoters in microglia and nutritional strategies to mitigate inflammatory cytokines in the aging brain. The broad underlying goal is to prevent or minimize age-associated behavioral deficits.
Students in the IIB lab can earn a Ph.D. in animal science, nutritional science, or neuroscience. Dr. Johnson also mentors students in the Medical Scholars Program (MD/Ph.D.) and the Veterinary Medical Scholars Program (DVM/Ph.D.).