John H. Russell, PhD

Emeritus Professor of Developmental Biology

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Research interests

Research in this laboratory focuses on central nervous system (CNS) (brain and spinal cord) inflammation and pathogenesis in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis. We have used genetically marked lymphocytes to study the mechanisms of their entry into the CNS to cause disease.

We have found that the initial compromise of the blood brain barrier requires that lymphocytes “see” a CNS antigen in the space between blood vessels and the parenchyma (body) of the CNS. This interaction initiates a “conversation” between cells originating in the blood and cells of the parenchyma itself that determines whether or not inflammatory invasion will occur.

The molecular language of this “conversation” is a group of small proteins (cytokines and chemokines) that regulate the expression of adhesion molecules (VCAM-1) on astrocytes in the parenchyma and recruit macrophages and other inflammatory cells. The VCAM-1 expression on astrocytes appears to be an important mechanism to allow both the recruitment and retention of the inflammatory infiltrate into the parenchyma, causing demyelination and axon loss associated with paralysis.

We have developed a novel technique to isolate the infiltrating lymphocytes at various stages of invasion. Current experiments are focused on understanding the molecular changes in the lymphocytes as they invade the CNS to identify possible targets for preventing their invasion of the CNS. We are also focusing on the role of the astrocyte in both promoting and protecting from or healing the inflammatory process. Our results suggest that there may be regionally specific “dialects” of the conversation making some CNS regions more susceptible to invasion than others and astrocytes are an important part of those regional differences.

Academic Positions

1996-present, Professor of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO

1984-1996, Associate Professor of Pharmacology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO

1978-1984, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO

1974-1978, Postdoctoral Fellow, Laboratory of Herman Eisen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA


Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellowship, 1975-1978

Research Career Development Award, DHHS 1984-1989

Outstanding Mentor Award from Graduate Student Senate, 2000

Mentor Award from Academic Women’s Network, 2000

Selected publications

See a complete list of Dr. Russell’s publications »