Integrative Neurobiology


Research Interests


Aging, Neuroinflammation, and Cognitive Dysfunction

The goal of this research is to determine if oxidative stress caused by a dysfunctional antioxidant homeostatic response leads to microglial cell priming in the senescent brain. Our specific hypothesis is that dysfunctional Nuclear factor E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) signaling is responsible for microglial cell priming and increased basal inflammation in the senescent brain and that activation of Nrf2 with sulforaphane—a naturally occurring compound in cruciferous vegetables—will prevent the harmful exaggerated neuroinflammatory response and resultant behavioral pathology during peripheral infection. The proposed research is important for developing new strategies for protecting cognitive health in older adults.


Brain and Cognitive Development:  Effects of Neuroinflammation 

The goal of this research is to investigate the developmental origins of the loss of resilience due to maternal infection during pregnancy in pigs—an agriculturally important animal whose brain is remarkably similar to that of humans with respect to gross anatomical features, overall growth pattern, and maturation. Our hypothesis is that maternal infection during pregnancy affects the developmental trajectory of the brain and particularly the microglial cell environment, reducing resilience later. Stress resilience is important to human health since less resilient individuals are at increased risk for neuropsychiatric disease, and it is important to animal agriculture because an exaggerated or prolonged stress response negatively impacts animal well-being, reduces production efficiency, and leads to pre- and post-slaughter losses. Thus, understanding the developmental origins of decreased resilience has dual purpose with dual benefit.    


Nutrition and Brain Health

The goal of this research is to investigate how diet influences brain and cognitive development and aging; and how diet influences communication between the immune system and brain.  Thus, research in this area is intertwined with the two projects described above.  The broad underlying goal is to explore nutrition-based interventions that protect the developing and aging brain from the harmful effects of inflammation.