- Mast cell biology and gastrointestinal physiology
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract, where most of the immune cells in the body live, is the largest site of interaction with the environment. Resident cells such as macrophages, dendritic cells, and innate lymphoid cells are fundamental to maintain integrity and support the tissue demands. Mast cells are also endemic to the entire GI tract, but besides their role in anaphylaxis their contribution to gut physiology is unknown. Our group aims to determine how mast cells regulate GI physiology at steady state and during inflammation (food allergy, for example). GI physiology includes digestion, motility, secretory and endocrine functions. This research project provides new insights into the biology of mast cells as well as new therapeutic avenues to ameliorate inflammatory diseases of the GI tract.
- Neuroimmune connections
The immune and nervous systems are the body’s main sensory interfaces that perceive and adapt to the environment. Despite the relevance of these two systems, immunology and neuroscience have been historically separate fields of study. Our group hypothesizes that certain immune cells (e.g., mast cells) form stable interactions with neurons to influence organismal physiology. Disruption or dysregulation of this module might be at the origin of inflammatory conditions. By leveraging technologies from these two biomedical fields, we seek to identify the cellular and molecular mechanisms of neuro-immune interactions at mucosal surfaces.
- Brain circuits and behavioral outcomes
The best way to deal with allergies is to avoid exposure to allergens. This avoidance behavior is characteristic in allergy sufferers and essential for animals to prevent exposure to noxious substances in natural environments. Despite its significance, the mechanisms by which inflammation causes behavioral changes are mostly unknown. The Florsheim lab designs experiments to a) identify the brain circuits induced by immune defenses and b) characterize the behavioral responses to distinct immunological stimuli. Our approach has the potential to uncover unknown immunological mechanisms underlying neuro-psychiatric conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.