Our laboratory is focused on understanding how immunological pathways contribute to neurodegenerative, neurodevelopmental, mental, and behavioral 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 suggest that crosstalk between the collection of trillions of microbes that peacefully live within us (called the intestinal microbiome) and the brain pivotally regulates the onset and progression 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.