The Laboratory of Neuroimmunology
The Laboratory of Neuroimmunology consists of a functional biochemical laboratory with standard equipment including HPLC, gamma counter, ELISA reader, PCR machine and microtome. The laboratory also houses an immune laboratory with all of the standard equipment required for tissue and cell culture, including an incubator, microscopes, and laminar flow/biohazard and biosafety hoods. Endocrine and immune assays are routinely carried out in the facility. A fully operational animal surgery with operating table, anaesthetic machine and stereotaxic equipment is also contained within the laboratory.
This facility is located in the Psychology department and is run by A/Prof Deborah Hodgson. The research focus of the laboratory currently is the role of early life events in programming development. Perinatal programming occurs when non-genetic factors act on the mother or fetus to cause permanent alterations to the normal physiological development of the fetus. This is thought to prepare the fetus for the environment to which it will be exposed.
However, "The fetal origins of disease hypothesis" also states that susceptibility to adulthood cardiovascular disease (CVD), non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, and the insulin resistance syndrome (IRS) is programmed in utero and is a response to fetal under-nutrition (David Barker, 1988). Since the "Barker hypothesis" was elaborated, we now know that perinatal factors are critical in the "programming" of many systems and result in alterations in behavioural, endocrine and immune outcomes. Exposure to glucocorticoids or bacterial stimulants, variations in maternal behaviour, intrauterine growth and nutritional restriction, are all events that drive fetal development along specific trajectories. Human and animal studies have clearly shown that small body size at birth and during infancy (often a consequence of the above factors) is associated with increased rates of coronary heart disease, impaired glucose tolerance and abnormalities in lipid metabolism and blood coagulation. We now have information to suggest that perinatal factors also drive the ontogeny of the immune system, potentially predisposing to atopic disorders. While accumulating behavioural data is suggesting that a predisposition toward anxiety, behavioural and psychiatric disorders may also be programmed by perinatal factors. Ongoing research from our laboratory is investigating the mechanisms underlying these effects.
The laboratory maintains research collaborative efforts with the Mother and Baby Research Centre and the Chronic Fatigue Research Centre at the University of Newcastle, and the University of New England. The laboratory also has international collaborations in the USA with The University of California, Los Angeles, The John Hopkins University, Baltimore and The University of Wisconsin, Madison, and in the Netherlands with The University of Utrecht.