University of California, Riverside

School of Medicine

Faculty Biographies

Monica J. Carson

Professor and Chair of Biomedical Sciences

Monica Carson

University of California, Riverside
Riverside, CA 92521

Tel: (951) 827-6089
Office: 1274 Webber Hall

Education and Training

  • A.B., Bryn Mawr College
  • Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania
  • Post-doctoral fellow, The Scripps Research Institute

Research: Using Microglia as Biosensors and Bioeffectors of Brain Health

Why study microglia when seeking to support life-long brain health?

Microglia are the resident immune cells of the central nervous system (CNS).  They are long lived cells that populate the entire CNS during prenatal development and are specialized to monitor and respond to even subtle changes in brain activity. Consequently, microglia are poised to play critical roles in the maintenance, defense and repair of the brain as it progresses though development, healthy adulthood and into old-age. Indeed, by their ability to nurture and edit neuronal synapses, microglia contribute to normal brain development and function including lifelong fine-tuning of our learning and memory centers.

Therefore, it is not surprising that recent studies from numerous labs around the world now conclusively demonstrate that defects in microglia function can have profound and devastating consequences for brain health.  Genetic, environmental and pathogen triggered defects in microglia are now recognized as contributors to the onset, severity and progression of neurodevelopmental disorders, adult-onset dementia and neurodegenerative disease as well as many neurocognitive disorders.


Our research goals are:

  • To develop methods utilizing microglia as biosensors reporting brain damage and dysfunction that are difficult to detect by standard clinical methodologies
  • To define neuroprotective CNS-specific functions of microglia that are not readily replaced by other blood-derived immune cells
  • To define the mechanisms by which microglia regulate neuronal development, synaptic maturation and ultimately CNS function
  • To define how normal aging and common life events such as concussions, viral & bacterial systemic infections and air quality regulate and alter microglial neuroprotective and neurotoxic functions.
  • To apply lessons learned to aid in the development of diagnoses, therapies and risk assessment of Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury (concussions) and other neurodegenerative disorders,

In aggregate, we find that microglial phenotype and function changes with life stage (infancy, puberty, early versus late adulthood), the environment (exposure to natural and man-made inhaled toxins) as well as history of systemic infection and Injury.  Therefore, the consequences of insults toward (and therapies for) susceptibility to neurodegeneration and cognitive disorders will also be dependent on the age of exposure to insult.

Additional information about microglia, their roles in brain health & disease and ongoing research projects can be found at our lab website

Disease Models Include:

  • Autoimmunity (multiple sclerosis and epilepsy)
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders (autism-spectrum disorders)
  • Neurodegenerative disease (Alzheimer's disease)
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (concussions)
  • Environmental exposure to Inhaled antigens and toxicants (natural and man-made)

Awards, Honors and Service

  • Associate Editor: Journal of Neuroscience (2012-2018), Journal of Immunology (2011-2015), Neurochemistry International (2007-2014); Journal of Neuroscience Research (2011-2013)
  • Editorial Boards: Brain Behavior and Immunity (2013-Present), GLIA (2005-present), Journal of Neuroinflammation (2007-present), Journal of Neuroscience Research (2008-2013), Neurochemistry International (2007-2018), Neuron Glia Biology (2008-2012), Neurotherapeutics (2010-present)
  • Chair: National Multiple Sclerosis Society Pilot Grant Study Section, (2011-2014)
  • Scientific Advisory and Review Boards: NIH CMBG (2007-2011), NIH F03A Fellowship review committee (2003-2007), National Multiple Sclerosis Society Fellowship Advisory Committee (2004-2009), NMSS Fast Forward Program (2010-2011), Race to Erase MS (2014-present), Brain Research Foundation (2018-present)
  • Dana Foundation, Award in Neuroimmunology, (2008)
  • University Honors, Faculty Mentor of the Year Award (2015-2016)

Selected Recent Publications

  • Lainez NM, Jonak CF, Nair MG, Ethell IM, Wilson EH, Carson MJ, Coss D (2018) Diet-Induced Obesity Elicits Macrophage Infiltration and Reduction in Spine Density in the Hypothalami of Male but Not Female Mice. Frontiers in Immunology 9:1992
  • Peng X, Madany AM, Jang JC, Valdez JM, Riva Z, Burr AC, Grinberg YY, Nordgren TM, Nair MG, Cocker D, Carson MJ, Lo DD (2018) Continuous Inhalation Exposure to Fungal Allergen Particulates Induces Lung Inflammation While Reducing Innate Immune Molecule Expression in the Brainstem. ASN Neuro 10:1-17.
  • Abud EM, Ramirez RN, Martinez ES, Healy LM, Nguyen CHH, Newman SA, Yeromin AV, Scarfone VM, Marsh SE, Fimbres C, Caraway CA, Fote GM, Madany AM, Agrawal A, Kayed R, Gylys KH, Cahalan MD, Cummings BJ, Antel JP, Mortazavi A, Carson MJ, Poon WW, Blurton-Jones M (2017) IPSC derived human microglia-like cells to study neurologic disease. Neuron 94:278-293
  • Hernandez AH, Donovan V, Grinberg YY, Obenaus A, Carson MJ. (2016) Differential detection of impact site versus rotational site injury by magnetic resonance imaging and microglial morphology in an unrestrained mild closed head injury model. Journal of Neurochemistry 136(s1) 18-28. Recommended by Faculty of 1000
  • Carson MJ (2016) Recruiting pro-inflammatory monocytes to ischemic injuries: On the job training required! Brain Behavior and Immunity. 53:16-7.
  • Heneka MT, Carson MJ et al. (2015) Neuroinflammation in Alzheimer's Disease. Lancet Neurol. 14(4):388-405.
  • Barnes MA, Carson MJ, Nair MG. (2015) Non-traditional cytokines: How catecholamines and adipokines influence macrophages in immunity, metabolism and the central nervous system. Cytokine. 72:210-9.
  • Binder DK, Carson MJ, (2013) Glial cells as primary therapeutic targets for epilepsy. Neurochem Int. 63:635-7.
  • Davis DS, Carson MJ. (2013) An introduction to CNS-Resident Microglia: Definitions, Assays and Functional Roles in Health and Disease. In Neural-Immune Interactions in Brain Function and Alcohol Disorders, pp3-29. Springer Press, Cui C, Grandison L, Noronha A, eds,.
  • Carson MJ. and Wilson EH. (2013) Visualizing chemokine-dependent T cell activation and migration in response to central nervous system infection. Methods Mol Biol. 1013:171-83.
  • Donovan V, Bianchi A, Hartman R, Bhanu B, Carson MJ, Obenaus A. (2012) Computational analysis reveals increased blood deposition following repeated mild traumatic brain injury. NeuroImage: clinical 1:18-28.

Old Favorites

  • Puntambekar SS, Davis DS, Hawel L 3rd, Byus CV, Carson MJ. (2011) LPS-induced CCL2 expression and macrophage influx into the murine central nervous system is polyamine dependent. Brain Behavior and Immunity 25:629-639.
  • Ploix CC, Noor S, Craine J, Masek K, Carter W, Lo DD, Wilson EH, Carson MJ. (2011) CNS-derived CCL21 is both sufficient to drive homeostatic CD4+ T cell proliferation and necessary for efficient CD4+ T cell migration into the CNS parenchyma following Toxoplasma gondii infection. Brain Behavior and Immunity 25:883-896.
  • Melchior B, Garcia AE, Hsiung BK, Lo KM, Doose JM, Thrash JC, Stalder AK, Staufenbiel M, Neumann H, Carson MJ. (2010) Dual Induction of TREM2 and tolerance-related transcript, Tmem176b in amyloid transgenic mice: implications for vaccine-based therapis for Alzheimer's disease. ASN NEURO 2:e00037.
  • Schmid CD, Melchior B, Masek K, Puntambekar SS, Danielson PE, Lo DD, Sutcliffe JG, Carson MJ. (2009) Differential gene expression in LPS/IFNgamma activated microglia and macrophages: in vitro versus in vivo. J Neurochem 109 suppl 1: 117-125.
  • Thrash JC, Torbett BE, Carson MJ. (2009) Developmental regulation of TREM2 and DAP12 expression in the murine CNS:implications for Nasu-Hakola disease. Neurochem Res 34:38-45.
  • Carson MJ, Bilousova TV, Puntambekar SS, Melchoir B., Doose JM and Ethell IM. (2007) A rose by any other name?: The potential consequences of microglial heterogeneity during CNS health and disease. Neurotherapeutics 4: 571-579.
  • Carson MJ and Lo DD. (2007) Perspective is everything: an irreverent discussion of CNS-immune system interactions as viewed from different scientific traditions. Brain Behavior and Immunity 21:367-373.
  • Schmid CD, Sautkulis LN, Danielson PE, Couper J, Hasel KW, Hilbush BS, Sutcliffe JG, Carson MJ. (2002) Heterogeneous expression of the triggering receptor expressed on myeloid cells-2 on adult murine microglia. J Neurochem. 83:1309-1320.

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