Dr. Nirmal Robinson

Principal Investigator, CECAD Junior Group Leader (CECAD CRC Bridging Group)

Dr. Nirmal Robinson and his team are investigating the molecular basis of immunosenescence, looking particularly at the interactions between energy metabolism and the immune system. Their findings have already provided new information on these interfaces, for example, between Salmonella typhimurium bacteria and Sirtuins. The research group aims to explore what significance other metabolic pathways, as well as the hormones insulin and leptin, have to the immune system.

Our research: Functioning of the immune system deteriorates with age. This process is called immunosenescence. Dr. Robinson and his team are investigating the molecular basis of immune senescence. Their goal is to understand how the immune system weakens with age and why older people become more susceptible to infection. The group is looking particularly at the interactions between metabolic pathways and immune responses.

Our successes: Recent research on the interfaces between metabolism and the immune system has enabled the team to demonstrate that pathogenic Salmonella typhimurium bacteria can interfere with metabolic processes in cells of the immune system. A further success has been the elucidation of the role of Sirtuin1in cell autonomous immune defense mechanisms. This protein, which is frequently lowered in older people, is triggering a balance between anabolism and catabolism in immune cells. These findings illustrate the crosstalk between energy metabolism and immune responses.

Our goals: Based on the way in which glycolysis impacts immune responses, Dr. Robinson’s team is exploring the functions of other metabolic pathways, such as glutamine metabolism and fatty acid oxidation, in the body’s immune defenses. Research also focuses on the significance of the metabolic hormones insulin and leptin in modulating immunity. As obese and diabetic patients are more susceptible to infection, the scientists hypothesize that these hormones could significantly regulate the immune system.

Our methods/techniques: Besides standard biochemical methods, such as western blots, quantitative PCR, and RNA-sequencing, the Robinson laboratory employs various micros-copy techniques and quantitative mass spectrometry.


Figure 1: Electron microscopical image of Salmonella typhimurium induced autophagosome in a macrophage

EXTERNAL Cooperations
  • Christoph Dietrich, Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing, Cologne, DE
  • Subash Sad, Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology, University of Ottawa, CA
  • Vidya Velagapudi, Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland, Helsinki, FI
  • Xiaoling Li, Laboratory of Signal Transduction, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, North Carolina, USA