John Lukens, Ph.D.

John Lukens, Ph.D., UVA ResearcherAssociate Professor
Lukens Lab


  • B.S., 2003 University of Richmond
  • Ph.D., 2008 University of Virginia
  • Postdoctoral Research, 2008-2014, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Research Interests

  1. Roles and regulation of IL-1 family cytokines in neurodegenerative disorders and CNS injury.
  2. Control of demyelinating neuroinflammation by innate immune sensors.
  3. Investigation of how microbiome-dependent regulation of immune re sponses influences cognition, behavior, mental health and neurodegenerative disease.
  4. Regulation of glia cell function by inflammatory caspases.
  5. Identification of the innate signaling pathways that are required to mount protective immune responses against CNS pathogens.

Research in the Lukens Laboratory

Our laboratory is focused on understanding how immunological pathways contribute to neurodegenerative, neurodevelopmental, mental and behavior disorders. We are actively investigating the cellular and molecular pathways that contribute to neuroinflammation and central nervous system (CNS)-related tissue damage. We are particularly interested in elucidating the mechanisms that regulate inflammatory cytokine production in the CNS in response to both tissue injury and CNS infection. To this end, we utilize models of multiple sclerosis, CNS injury, neurodegenerative disease, autism spectrum disorder and CNS infection to identify the cell types and molecular pathways that are responsible for neuroinflammation. Our previous work has identified IL-1-dependent signaling as a critical regulator of inflammatory cytokine production and tissue destruction in a model of multiple sclerosis. Future work in our laboratory will focus on further characterizing the immunological signaling pathways that control neuroinflammation in models of neurodegeneration, CNS injury and CNS infection.

We are also exploring how modulation of the microbial landscape in the intestine influences the development of CNS disorders. Emerging data suggests that crosstalk between the intestinal microbiome (collection of trillions of microbes that peacefully live within us) and the brain is a pivotal regulator of many CNS diseases; however , the mechanisms by which the microbiome can influence CNS disease pathogenesis remain poorly defined. In our lab , we are investigating how microbiota-dependent control of immune responses specifically influences neurological disease pathogenesis, CNS function and mental health.

Effective treatment strategies are desperately needed for most CNS diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), CNS injury, autism and various forms of CNS infectious disease. Perturbations in immune responses are widely believed to centrally contribute to the pathogenesis of many, if not all, neurological disorders.  In the Lukens laboratory, we believe that a more complete characterization of the interactions between the immune and nervous systems will lead to improved understanding of complex neurological disorders in humans and will help to identify novel and promising therapeutic targets to treat CNS diseases.

John Lukens, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Neuroscience
Center for Brain Immunology and Glia
University of Virginia
409 Lane Road, MR4- 6102
Charlottesville VA 22908
Lab:  434-924-7781
Office:  434-924-7782