About the Institute for Immunology

The mission of the UC Irvine Institute for Immunology is to consolidate and further the university’s immunology research efforts, thereby promoting the rapid development of world-class research and outstanding graduate and medical training programs in immunology.

The immune system plays a crucial role not only in fighting infectious pathogens, but also other disease states, including cancer and systemic and organ-specific autoimmune conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and diabetes.

This study has led to vital discoveries about the pathways and mechanisms that govern development in biological systems.

Who we are

The institute brings together more than two dozen faculty members from the School of Biological Sciences and the School of Medicine, whose research and instructional efforts are in immunology.

We integrate the immunological research and educational activities of multiple departments, including Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Physiology and Biophysics, Pathology, Medicine, Neurology and Chemistry.

Our activities extend to synergies with allied areas of research including biomedical engineering, public health and physical rehabilitation.

Our research

The institute is focused on four major areas of immunology research:

  • Host Defense and Vaccine Development
  • Neuroimmunology and Inflammation
  • Immune Cell and Cytokine Function
  • Cancer Immunology
Research in Host Defense and Vaccine Development »

  • Lbachir BenMohamed, PhD, associate professor, departments of Ophthalmology and Molecular Biology & Biochemistry

    BenMohamed examines the humoral and cellular immune responses to herpes simplex viral infections, epitope mapping, and the development and optimization of sub-unit vaccines. His basic research currently focuses on the humoral and cellular immune responses to ocular, genital and oro-facial herpes simplex viral infections (HSV-1 and HSV-2). His lab also does T-cell epitope mapping to generate f sub-unit vaccines against HSV-1 and HSV-2 infections and diseases.

  • Philip Felgner, PhD, professor, Department of Medicine; director, Protein Microarray Laboratory, Division of Infectious Diseases

    Felgner has pioneered a high throughput cloning and protein microarray chip fabrication approach that can profile immunoreactivity on a large scale and has cloned more than 30,000 plasmids derived from 30 infectious viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. His work on vaccines has resulted in collaborations with scientists from more than 30 institutions worldwide. Most recently, he received funding to examine vaccine candidates for Coxiella burnetii (Q fever) from his proteomics library in combination with triple TLR adjuvants developed by Aaron Esser-Kahn, PhD. There is also a critical Immunology component to this proposal in terms of assessing the host response in immunized mice. Amanda Burkhardt, a pre-doctoral T32 awardee, is running this aspect of the project in collaboration with professors Pearlman and Zlotnik.

  • Donald N Forthal, MD, professor, Department of Medicine; chief, Division of Infectious Diseases

    The Forthal lab examines the antibody response to HIV and other viral infections with the long-term goal of developing vaccines and immunotherapeutic agents. The Forthal lab showed enhanced transcytosis of HIV immune complexes due to pH-dependent engagement of epithelial cell Fc neonatal receptors (FcRn), and is currently using in vitro assays and animal models to examine the interactions between non-neutralizing antibodies and Fc expressing cells, and addressing the potential for antibodies to facilitate HIV transmission across mucosal surfaces and whether antibodies inhibit or enhance survival in host cells.

  • Melissa Lodoen, PhD, associate professor, Department of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry

    The Lodoen laboratory focuses on the cellular and molecular interactions between the pathogen Toxoplasma gondii and the host immune system, especially on the mechanisms by which T. gondii modulates host immunity during infection. Specifically, Lodoen is examining extracellular and intracellular ('Trojan Horse’' mechanisms of parasite adhesion and transmigration across the blood brain barrier. A second study examines the dynamics of intracellular parasite migration through the brain parenchyma during acute infection and in chronically infected mice undergoing parasite reactivation due to immune suppression (as a model for HIV/AIDS infected individuals). In addition, professor Lodoen is investigating mechanisms of human innate immune recognition of T. gondii and pathways that mediate inflammation and host defense.

  • Eric Pearlman, PhD, professor, Departments of Ophthalmology, Physiology & Biophysics; director, Institute for Immunology

    The Pearlman lab examines innate immunity and the role of neutrophils as regulatory and effector cells in bacterial and fungal infections. Specifically, professor Pearlman’s research examines the role of neutrophils as a source of IL-1b and IL-17.

Research in Neuroimmunology and Inflammation »

Neuroimmunology and Multiple Sclerosis

  • Michael Demetriou, MD, PhD, professor, Department of Neurology; director, National Multiple Sclerosis Society-designated Comprehensive MS Care Clinic

    The Demetriou lab focuses on the molecular biology and glycobiology of T cell function in relation to autoimmune diseases, including EAE. He is investigating how genetic and metabolic regulation of protein glycosylation controls the function and activity of cell surface glycoproteins to affect cell growth and differentiation in autoimmunity. As almost all cell surface and secreted proteins in animals are modified by the addition of complex carbohydrates in the ER/Golgi, he is examining the role of N-acetylglucosaminyl transferases (MGATs) in this process.

  • Craig Walsh PhD, professor, Department of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry; director of the UC Irvine Multiple Sclerosis Research Center; member, Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center

    Professor Walsh’s research focuses on T cell development, tolerance and autoimmunity, including viral and myelin antigen-induced models of multiple sclerosis (experimental autoimmune encephalitis, EAE). The Walsh lab focuses on the role that apoptotic signal transduction plays in the self-tolerance and homeostasis of T cells, and has demonstrated a specific role for the adaptor protein FADD in this process. His laboratory has also found an essential role for the immunoregulatory serine/threonine kinase in autoimmunity and allograft rejection. In addition, his laboratory is investigating communication between neural stem cells and T cells in the context of EAE and multiple sclerosis.

Neuro-Inflammation and neuro-degeneration

  • Aileen Anderson, PhD, associate professor, Anatomy & Neurobiology; member, Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center

    The Anderson lab's scientific focus is the role of inflammatory mechanisms in degeneration and regeneration in the injured central nervous system. She reported on a novel role for complement C1q in neurite outgrowth in vitro and axon regrowth after spinal cord injury, and is examining the role of infiltrating neutrophils, macrophages and complement factors in selective differentiation of pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to astrocytes and their recruitment to the site of spinal injury.

  • Tallie Z. Baram, MD, PhD, professor, departments of Pediatrics, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Neurology and Physiology & Biophysics; director, UC Irvine Epilepsy Research Center and the Conti Center

    The Baram lab has been involved for more than a decade in studying the role of neuroinflammatory processes in epilepsy. Specifically, she has addressed the role of inflammation in febrile seizures (FS), the most common type of seizures in children, and in temporal lobe epilepsy, which is the most common type of adult human epilepsy (TLE). Baram used a novel experimental model to demonstrate a causal relationship of FS and TLE and actions of inflammatory mediators, including IL-1 beta. She also has developed a research program centered on the mechanisms by which neuroinflammation promotes abnormal neuronal excitability.

  • Mathew Blurton-Jones, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Neurobiology & Behavior; director, UC Irvine ADRC Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Core; member, Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center

    Blurton-Jones is examining the underlying molecular mechanisms that drive the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD), the two most common forms of age-related neurodegeneration. His lab uses patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to study the role of immunity in transgenic mouse models of AD and PD. Specifically, he is using iPSCs to generate human microglia and investigate microglial function in AD pathology. He recently found that peripheral immune populations slow the development of beta-amyloid pathology by modulating microglial function. In collaboration with colleagues in the Institute for Immunology, Blurton-Jones is now examining peripheral immune cell senescence in AD.

  • Matthew Inlay, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry; member, Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center (Junior preceptor)

    The Inlay lab focuses on microglial dysfunction, which is thought to contribute to the pathology in Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease and age-related dementia. Specifically, he is using lineage-tracing systems to develop a transplantation approach to neurodegeneration, and is using CD11a to distinguish microglia from infiltrating monocytes/macrophages, which have a nearly identical marker expression pattern as microglia and are often associated with sites of neuroinflammation. He also is examining the role of CD11a/ LFA1 in extravasation and formation of an immunological synapse.

  • Andrea Tenner, PhD, professor, Department of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry; director, UCI MIND

    The Tenner lab examines the role of complement factors, especially the C1Q receptor CD93 in relation to neurodegenerative diseases, using a murine model of Alzheimer's disease. Further, inhibition of C5a- induced inflammation reduces amyloid and tangle accumulation, reduces synapse loss and contributes to the prevention or rescue of a deficit in a hippocampal dependent memory task.

Immune Cell and Cytokine Function »

  • Anshu Agrawal, PhD, associate adjunct professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Basic & Clinical Immunology

    Agrawal studies the role of dendritic cells in the aging immune system, specifically an ability to maintain tolerance at the respiratory surfaces that results in chronic inflammation and remodeling of the airways and increases the susceptibility of the elderly to respiratory illnesses. The primary focus of her research is to understand: 1) the mechanisms leading to age-associated decline in the capacity of dendritic cells to maintain peripheral self tolerance and its contribution to chronic inflammation and autoimmune disorders; and 2) Characterize age-associated alterations in the functions of dendritic cells that are responsible for increased susceptibility to pneumonia and influenza. She recently received an R01 for these studies, which will allow her to recruit students and post-doctoral fellows.

  • Michael D. Cahalan, PhD, professor and chair, Department of Physiology & Biophysics; member, National Academy of Sciences

    Cahalan’s pioneering work identified the pivotal role of ion channels in the immune response. He elucidated the physiological functions and molecular properties of ion channel types that are the molecular basis for calcium signaling and T cell activation. Also, by imaging lymphoid organs, his work has also revealed the cellular choreography that underlies the initiation of the immune response in vivo. Targeting these channels has proven efficacy in animal models of multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis because calcium is a vital second messenger in lymphocytes. His single-cell imaging experiments decoded the intracellular calcium signaling requirements for gene transcriptional activation and cell motility in lymphocytes. The Cahalan lab also carried out genome-wide RNAi screens that led to the co-discovery of the Ca2+ channel-forming protein Orai.

  • Sergio Armando Villalta, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Physiology & Biophysics (Junior preceptor)

    Villalta is new to UC Irvine, coming from a UC San Francisco postdoctoral position with Jeffrey Bluestone, PhD. Villalta’s work examined the role of regulatory T cells (Tregs) in blocking muscle injury and inflammation in the mdx mouse model of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) using a murine MDX model of the disease (Science Translational Medicine, 2015). Although Tregs were absent in the muscle of wild-type mice and normal human muscle, they were abundant in necrotic lesions in dystrophic muscle and from MDX mice. Villalta concluded that Tregs modulate the progression of muscular dystrophy by suppressing type 1 inflammation in muscle associated with muscle fiber injury.

Cancer Immunology »


  • David Fruman, PhD, professor, Department of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry

    Fruman’s lab examines the role of PI3K and mTOR in lymphocyte development, activation, and transformation, including development of B cell leukemias and lymphomas. He is also investigating the effect of emerging anti-cancer drugs targeting the PI3K and mTOR pathways on the function of normal lymphocytes.
  • Devon Lawson, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Physiology & Biophysics (Junior preceptor)

    Lawson is a new recruit from UCSF, who is working on inflammation in breast cancer. In a recent Nature paper, she demonstrated that metastasis-initiating cells possess a distinct stem cell gene expression program. Dr Lawson developed a new technique for studying breast tumor metastasis in human patient- derived xenograft (PDX) tumors engrafted into mice, and is currently using this approach to study the role of the immune system in the metastatic process. She is particularly interested in how the immune cell repertoire changes in different metastatic sites, at different stages during metastatic progression, which signaling mediators are involved, and importantly how the metastatic process differs in immune-deficient versus immune-competent animal models.
  • Richard Van Etten, MD, PhD, professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology; director, Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center 

    The Van Etten lab studies hematologic neoplasms driven by dysregulated tyrosine kinase signaling, including chronic  myeloid leukemia, polycythemia vera and primary  myelofibrosis. His lab develops and characterizes physiologically accurate mouse models that can be used to study development and molecular pathogenesis of B cell lymphomas in relation to immunosuppression.

  • Marian Waterman, PhD, professor, Department of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics; director, Cancer Research Institute

    Waterman studies the role of Wnt signaling in cancer and stem cell biology. Current studies are focused on how Wnt-directed Warburg metabolism in the cancer cells signals to the microenvironment to develop angiogenic vasculature and subsequently trigger the process of invasion and metastasis. These signals include small molecule metabolites transported by members of the SLC16A family and are postulated to influence the activities of multiple cell types in the tumor microenvironment, including endothelial cells, macrophages, T lymphocytes and dendritic cells. She is examining the role of immune cells in colon cancer metastases.
Innovative Technologies in Immunology »

  • Jennifer A. Prescher, PhD, assistant professor, departments of Chemistry, Molecular Biology & Biochemistry, and Pharmaceutical Sciences

    Prescher ’s research involves developing next-generation imaging tools to enable sensitive imaging of metastatic disease and immune cell function. Her group is developing general toolsets to image macroscopic cellular networks and behaviors in three project areas: generating novel bioluminescent probes for multi-cellular tracking; visualizing cell-cell contacts in vivo, and developing new bio-orthogonal chemistries for multi-component imaging.