Regulation of Cytokine Production by Macrophages

a diagram of how pain, depression, and inflammation intersect.

Dysregulated communication between the nervous system and immune system occurs during depressive behavior, chronic pain, and inflammation.

Project description

Studies in Dr. Ignatowski’s laboratory are designed to investigate the bidirectional communication between the nervous and immune systems as it relates to the control of depressive behavior, chronic pain, and inflammation. She uses a combination of in vitro cell culture systems, in vivo electrical field stimulation of brain tissue, molecular methods, immunohistochemical and immunofluorescence staining, and behavioral models to address the question of how brain-derived tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a pro-inflammatory cytokine and neuromediator, functions as a modulator of brain-body interactions during neuropathic pain and in the mechanism of action of antidepressant drugs. Additionally, studies involve investigation of neurotransmitter (adrenergic and cholinergic) regulation of TNF production from the peripheral macrophage, a major source of TNF during inflammation.

Ongoing projects:

  1. Study the effects of various neurotransmitters on the release of the cytokine TNF produced by macrophages, immune effector cells. Receptors on macrophages will be stimulated to assess regulation of TNF production during models of neuropathic pain and depression. Macrophage will be harvested from animals at the time of termination, and TNF production will be compared amongst the various animal groups.
  2. Use immunohistochemical and immunofluorescence staining to determine whether there is a correlation between levels of TNF in rodents induced with neuropathy and the amount of neurogenesis (growth and development of neurons). We will also compare staining to samples taken from rats administered drugs that are known to alleviate pain behavior and improve depressive behavior in animals. The brains will be harvested and the hippocampi isolated. The brain tissue will be sectioned and specific antibodies will be used to stain for TNF and markers expressed by newly born immature neurons and newly dividing cells.
  3. Assess inflammatory mediators, such as high-mobility group box chromosomal protein 1 (HMGB1) produced by macrophages and damaged neurons, from animals with neuropathic pain (diabetic neuropathy, chemotherapy-induced neuropathy) and control animals (rats/mice). We will determine whether animals receiving treatment for neuropathic pain have modified levels of inflammatory mediators.

Project outcome

It is anticipated that at the end of the project, students will have generated data for a poster presentation (at the minimum).

Project details

Timing, eligibility and other details
Length of commitment Longer than a semester (6-9 months)
Start time Any time
In-person, remote, or hybrid?
Level of collaboration Small group project (2-3 students)
Benefits Academic Credit, Work Study, Volunteer
Who is eligible All undergraduate students
Goldwater and the National Science Foundation

Students participating in this project might be interested in and eligible for the Goldwater Scholarship and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Connect with the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships to learn more.

Project mentor

Tracey A. Ignatowski

Assistant Professor

Pathology and Anatomical Sciences

955 Main Street, Room 4256

Phone: (716) 829-3102


Start the project

  1. Email the project mentor using the contact information above to express your interest and get approval to work on the project. (Here are helpful tips on how to contact a project mentor.)
  2. After you receive approval from the mentor to start this project, click the button to start the digital badge. (Learn more about ELN's digital badge options.) 

Preparation activities

Once you begin the digital badge series, you will have access to all the necessary activities and instructions. Your mentor has indicated they would like you to also complete the specific preparation activities below. Please reference this when you get to Step 2 of the Preparation Phase. 

  • Lab Safety Training
  • Read papers from the lab
    • "Regulation of macrophage-derived tumor necrosis factor production by modification of adrenergic receptor sensitivity" in the Journal of Neuroimmunology
    • "The hippocampus and TNF: Common links between chronic pain and depression" in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews


Pathology and Anatomical Sciences