Brain vasculature at the neuro-immune interface

Recently, researchers have come to appreciate that our brains and our immune systems are intricately connected, and that the dialogue between these two complicated systems is integral to human health and brain disease. Chenghua Gu studies the brain’s blood supply system, an elaborate vascular network that closely interacts with both the immune system and the brain.  Each neuron in the brain is nestled right next to a blood vessel and completely depends on its support for survival and function. Since immune signals are carried in the blood stream, the brain vasculature sits right at the interface between the immune system and the brain. Gu and her laboratory team will study the communication between nervous and immune systems by examining the specialized cells that line the brains’ blood vessels, known as endothelial cells, and how they receive and transmit signals between the body’s immune system and the brain. She has developed new ways to isolate brain endothelial cells from distinct brain regions of mice and study which genes they turn on and off, cell by individual cell, when peripheral immune challenges are applied. 

Affiliated Investigators

Chenghua Gu, Ph.D.

Harvard Medical School

Chenghua Gu is a professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. Her laboratory studies the interactions between the vascular and the nervous systems, specifically how the blood-brain barrier (BBB) functions and how neural activity rapidly increases local blood flow to meet moment-to-moment changes in regional brain energy demand – a process called neurovascular coupling. Her laboratory recently demonstrated that inhibition of transcytosis is a major mechanism for the BBB function, a surprising finding in view of the nearly exclusive focus on tight junctions as the mechanism of BBB integrity. Her findings imply that the molecular pathways inhibiting transcytosis could be targeted to open the BBB and deliver drugs to the central nervous system. Her lab also discovered that neural activity not only regulates local  blood flow, but also influences the structure of vascular networks, revealing a novel mechanism to match brain energy supply to neural demand. In earlier studies, Dr. Gu’s lab contributed to the recognition that the same guidance cues are used for wiring both the nervous and vascular systems, and discovered basic principles governing the establishment of neurovascular congruency.

Dr. Gu received her Ph.D. at Cornell Medical School and did her postdoctoral training at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Gu was awarded the Whitehall Foundation Award (2007), the Klingenstein Fellowship Award (2007), March of Dimes Foundation Award (2007),and the  Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship (2008). Dr. Gu is a winner of the National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award for highly innovative research (2014). She was awarded the Bernice Grafstein Lecture (2015) at Weill Cornell Medical College, a lecture established to highlight the work of early-mid career women neuroscientists who are making their mark in their respective field. Dr. Gu is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Faculty Scholar.