Environmental Modulators of the Immune System (EMI)

EMI researchers examine how environmental factors found in the Detroit metropolitan area disrupt the immune system to cause autoimmune and other inflammatory diseases. Although individual autoimmune diseases are relatively rare, collectively 14-24 million Americans (i.e., 4.5% to 8% of the population) are afflicted by one or more of these disorders. Genetic factors predispose certain individuals to develop autoimmune diseases, but most of these diseases still require an environmental trigger. Not surprisingly, many autoimmune diseases disproportionately affect inhabitants of heavily industrialized urban areas such as Detroit.  Accordingly, one area in which EMI researchers are especially active is autoimmune associated respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Asthma exerts an especially significant burden of disease on inner-city residents, most notably the elderly and children. While asthma has rising prevalence in developed countries and urban centers around the world, Detroit has one of the highest rates of asthma in the country, affecting more than 13% and 20% of adult and children residents respectively.

There is evidence suggesting a strong environmental influence on the prevalence of asthma.  Several studies have reported adverse respiratory events from exposure to traffic emissions, with particularly strong effects in children.  Air pollution is well known to be a major factor affecting respiratory health, and Detroit has been classified as a high air pollution zone, largely due to industrial and vehicular emissions. Consequently, some of our EMI members are involved in cataloging pollutants in the Detroit environment and identifying which factors are most closely linked to asthma, as well as researching the mechanisms by which they impact the initiation and progression of the disease.

Another area in which EMI researchers are active is in the immunological consequences of exposure to heavy metals.  In particular the Flint lead crisis has brought to the forefront problems concerning contamination of water supplies in Flint and South East Michigan.  EMI members are currently pursuing research aimed at understanding how contamination of our water supplies with heavy metals can lead to detrimental effects on our immune systems in Flint and elsewhere.


Name Affiliations Research Interests
Allen Rosenspire, Ph.D., EMI Leader Department of Immunology and Microbiology, Wayne State University School of Medicine Immuno-toxicology of mercury
Joseph Caruso, Ph.D. Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Wayne State University Immuno-toxicology of mercury and toxicology of petroleum coke
Jack Harkema, Ph.D., DVM Department of Pathobiology and Diagnostic Investigation and Institute for Integrative Toxicology, Michigan State University Relationship between air pollution and inflammatory lung disease
Christine Cole Johnson, Ph.D., MPH Department of Public Health Sciences, Henry Ford Health System Effect of the environmental microbiome on the gut microbiome and immunological outcomes, including asthma and allergy in children
Paul Kilgore, Ph.D. Department of Pharmacy Practice, Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Wayne State University Effect of environmental stressors on infectious disease
Shawn McElmurry, Ph.D. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering, Wayne State University Consequences and abatement of lead in the water supply and toxicology of petroleum coke
Masako Morishita, Ph.D. Department of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University of Michigan Relationship between air pollution and inflammatory lung disease
John J. Reiners, Jr., Ph.D. Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Wayne State University Relationship between air pollution and asthma
Weisong Shi, Ph.D. Department of Computer Science, College of Engineering, Wayne State University  
Paul Stemmer, Ph.D. Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Wayne State University Immuno-toxicology of mercury and neuro-toxicology of lead

Research Highlights

Lemke LD, Lamerato LE, Xu X, Booza JC, Reiners JJ Jr, Raymond III DM, Villeneuve PJ, Lavigne E, Larkin D, Krouse HJ. Geospatial relationships of air pollution and acute asthma events across the Detroit-Windsor international border: study design and preliminary results. Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 24:346-57, 2014.  PMC4063324

Wegienka G, Zoratti E, Johnson CC. The role of the early-life environment in the development of allergic disease. Immunol Allergy Clin North Am 2015;35:1-17. PMID:25459574

Caruso JA1, Stemmer PM, Dombkowski A, Caruthers NJ, Gill R, Rosenspire AJ. A systems toxicology approach identifies Lyn as a key signaling phosphoprotein modulated by mercury in a B lymphocyte cell model. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 276:47-54, 2014 PMID: 24440445

Caruso JA, Zhang K, Schroeck NJ, McCoy B, McElmurry SP (2015) Petroleum coke in the urban environment: A review of potential health effects. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 12:6218-6231, PMID: 26035666

Salim AM, Liang Y, Kilgore PE. Protecting Newborns Against Pertussis: Treatment and Prevention Strategies. Paediatr Drugs. 2015 17:425-41  PMID: 26542059

Andersen JP, Dorai M, Papazoglou K, Arnetz BB. Diurnal and Reactivity Measures of Cortisol in Response to Intensive Resilience and Tactical Training Among Special Forces Police. J Occup Environ Med. 2016 (7):e242-8 PMID:27218280

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Center for Urban Responses to Environmental Stressors