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Ilona Jaspers, PhD

Associate Professor
Pesiartics Director, Curriculum Toxicology
528 Human Studies Facility


My lab is located in the Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma, and Lung Biology located in the EPA Human Studies Facility on the UNC campus. Using the clinical and exposure infrastructure available in this facility, my research focuses on mechanisms by which factors such as nutrition, pre-existing diseases, and co-exposures to environmental agents modify mucosal host defense responses.

Experimental Models

Respiratory viruses, such as influenza virus, primarily infect and replicate in epithelial cells lining the respiratory tract. We use human in vitro and in vivo experimental models to investigate the changes in mucosal host defense responses that affect susceptibility to infection with respiratory viruses. We use differentiated human airway epithelial cells, which replicate many of the features observed in the intact epithelium in vivo, to determine mechanisms by which pre-existing pulmonary diseases or exposure to air pollutants alter innate and antiviral defense responses at the level of the epithelium. For our human in vivo studies, we use inoculation with live-attenuated influenza virus (LAIV) as a model to study innate and antiviral host defense responses. The current research projects conducted in my lab are as following:

Effects of smoking on respiratory mucosal immune responses:

Using our human in vitro and in vivo models we are interested in how smoking affects antiviral defense responses. Specifically we are interested in how smoking alters the ability of epithelial cells to activate resident immune cells, such as dendritic cells and natural killer cells.

Effects of air pollutants on respiratory virus infections:

Using exposure chambers available in the EPA Human Studies Facility we are investigating how ambient air pollutants, such as ozone and diesel exhaust modify innate host defense responses in the context of viral infections.

Effects of nutritional supplementation on viral infections:

Our recent data indicate that nutritional activators of the transcription factor Nrf2 affect host defense responses and susceptibility to viral infections. Using human in vivo clinical supplementation protocols as well as in vitro epithelial cell models we are examining how nutritional supplements, like sulforaphane modifies mucosal immune responses.


Kesic MJ, Meyer M, Bauer R, Jaspers I. Exposure to ozone modulates human airway protease/antiprotease balance contributing to increased influenza A infection. PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e35108. Epub 2012 Apr 9. PubMed PMID: 22496898; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3322171.

Horvath KM, Brighton LE, Herbst M, Noah TL, Jaspers I. Live attenuated influenza virus (LAIV) induces different mucosal T cell function in nonsmokers and smokers. Clin Immunol. 2012 Mar;142(3):232-6. Epub 2012 Jan 6. PubMed PMID: 22264637; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3288450.

Bauer RN, Diaz-Sanchez D, Jaspers I. Effects of air pollutants on innate immunity: the role of Toll-like receptors and nucleotide-binding oligomerization domain-like receptors. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2012 Jan;129(1):14-24; quiz 25-6. PubMed PMID: 22196521.

Noah TL, Zhou H, Jaspers I. Alteration of the nasal responses to influenza virus by tobacco smoke. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2012 Feb;12(1):24-31. PubMed PMID: 22157158; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3305994.

Noah TL, Zhou H, Zhang H, Horvath K, Robinette C, Kesic M, Meyer M, Diaz-Sanchez D, Jaspers I. Diesel exhaust exposure and nasal response to attenuated influenza in normal and allergic volunteers. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2012 Jan 15;185(2):179-85. Epub 2011 Oct 27. PubMed PMID: 22071326; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3297091.

Horvath KM, Herbst M, Zhou H, Zhang H, Noah TL, Jaspers I. Nasal lavage natural killer cell function is suppressed in smokers after live attenuated influenza virus. Respir Res. 2011 Aug 4;12:102. PubMed PMID: 21816072; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3163542.

Rager JE, Lichtveld K, Ebersviller S, Smeester L, Jaspers I, Sexton KG, Fry RC. A toxicogenomic comparison of primary and photochemically altered air pollutant mixtures. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Nov; 119(11):1583-9. Epub 2011 Jul 14. PubMed PMID: 21757418; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3226493.

Kesic MJ, Simmons SO, Bauer R, Jaspers I. Nrf2 expression modifies influenza A entry and replication in nasal epithelial cells. Free Radic Biol Med. 2011 Jul 15;51(2):444-53. Epub 2011 Apr 19. PubMed PMID: 21549835; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3135631.

Gowdy KM, Krantz QT, King C, Boykin E, Jaspers I, Linak WP, Gilmour MI. Role of oxidative stress on diesel-enhanced influenza infection in mice. Part Fibre Toxicol. 2010 Nov 22;7:34. PubMed PMID: 21092162; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3001415.

Horvath KM, Brighton LE, Zhang W, Carson JL, Jaspers I. Epithelial cells from smokers modify dendritic cell responses in the context of influenza infection. Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2011 Aug;45(2):237-45. Epub 2010 Oct 8. PubMed PMID: 20935192; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3175553.

Noah TL, Zhou H, Monaco J, Horvath K, Herbst M, Jaspers I. Tobacco smoke exposure and altered nasal responses to live attenuated influenza virus. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Jan;119(1):78-83. Epub 2010 Oct 4. PubMed PMID: 20920950; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3018504.

Jaspers I, Horvath KM, Zhang W, Brighton LE, Carson JL, Noah TL. Reduced expression of IRF7 in nasal epithelial cells from smokers after infection with influenza. Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2010 Sep;43(3):368-75. Epub 2009 Oct 30. PubMed PMID: 19880818; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2933552.

Jaspers I, Sheridan PA, Zhang W, Brighton LE, Chason KD, Hua X, Tilley SL. Exacerbation of allergic inflammation in mice exposed to diesel exhaust particles prior to viral infection. Part Fibre Toxicol. 2009 Aug 14;6:22. PubMed PMID: 19682371; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2739151.

Ciencewicki JM, Brighton LE, Jaspers I. Localization of type I interferon receptor limits interferon-induced TLR3 in epithelial cells. J Interferon Cytokine Res. 2009 May;29(5):289-97. PubMed PMID: 19231996; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2956593.

Complete list of publications

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