I received my PhD in 1990 from the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. For my postdoctoral fellowship I worked in the Department of Psychiatry, University of Rochester Medical School in New York State, where I continued my training in the then fledgling field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). I went on to consolidate my skills in PNI in the Department of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, before coming to Rutgers University in 1998.
Psychoneuroimmuonlogy is a relatively new discipline that goes by various names, but essentially addresses the functional relationship between the brain and behavior, endocrine system, and the immune system. More recently, however, it has become known that many of the events taking place within the immune system also occur in the brain. For example, the glial cells of the brain produce many products similar to those made by circulating leukocytes, or the white blood cells we identify as executing immune functions. Therefore, psychoneuroimmunology also encompasses the rapidly growing field of neuroinflammation and the relevance of this to many neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
As a psychoneuroimmunologist, my focus is more on behavioral neuroscience, which I pursue using various normal and mutant mouse strains. My main questions relate to how central and peripheral immune events influence the cognitive and emotional state of animals, and through what mechanisms this might occur. This has led us to address the role of cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF), as well as anxiogenic neuropeptides, such as corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH; aka CRF), in the behavioral and neurobiological effects of immune challenge with bacterial toxins. In particular, we are using a class of bacterial toxins that exert superantigenic effects on T lymphocytes. This results in dramatic elevations of circulating cytokines, but which result in increased activity in brain areas mediating emotional and/or stress-like responses. In addition, we observe behavioral changes that suggest that animals experience augmented or potentiated emotional reactivity in various test situations. Support for this work comes though a grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health. Additional areas of interest pursued by my graduate students are available here.
In addition to the behavioral neuroscience program (BN), I am also part of the Health Psychology program, where collaborations with other faculty from the department have led to research on (i) depression, cardiovascular disease, and inflammation, (ii) the genetics of the startle response. Finally, as part of the Mind-Body Center at Rutgers, I have engaged in collaborations on the relationship between psychosocial variables, aging and the immune response. More about this research can be found on the Health Psychology website.