Dorian McGavern, Ph.D.

Senior Investigator

Viral Immunology and Intravital Imaging Section


Building 10, Room 5N240C
10 Center Drive
Bethesda, MD 20892-1430


Research Topics

My laboratory focuses on innate and adaptive immune responses to acute and persistent infection of the central nervous system (CNS) as well as sterile immune responses that develop following mild traumatic brain injury. The CNS is an immunologically specialized tissue containing a population of nonreplicative cells (neurons) responsible for a symphony of electrochemical signaling. The communication between neurons is exceedingly complex and contributes to nearly every aspect of our day-to-day functions. The immune system is equally complex (possessing both innate and adaptive components) and is assigned to the tasks of warding off microbes that invade all parts of the body as well as dealing with damaged tissues. For this reason, the immune system is highly mobile and equipped with effector mechanisms that neutralize pathogens and also molecules that facilitate tissue repair. Despite this balance, immune cells sometimes employ mechanisms that further damage tissues following infection or injury. From an immunological perspective, the CNS is an interesting compartment because it must preserve neuronal function while still enabling immune cells to survey the environment for pathogens and injury. The CNS and immune systems communicate with one another during states of health and disease, and it is the unique dialogue between two systems that guides much of our research. We focus specifically on immune cell surveillance of the infected CNS, pathogenesis of viral meningitis (a disease of the CNS lining), viral encephalitis, mechanisms that give rise to viral persistence, therapeutic approaches to purge infections, the pathogenesis of cerebral malaria (a disease caused by the parasite Plasmodium berghei), and immune reactions to traumatic brain injury. We use many contemporary approaches to gain novel insights into these research areas, the most exciting of which is intravital two-photon microscopy. This approach allows us to watch immune cells clear pathogens, cause diseases, or repair damaged tissues in real-time. Overall, our laboratory crosses the disciplines of virology/microbiology, immunology, and neuroscience in order to provide a comprehensive understanding of the different scenarios that unfold when the CNS is invaded by pathogens or is damaged by injury.


Dr. McGavern received his B.S degree in microbiology from The Pennsylvania State University and his Ph.D. in molecular neuroscience from the Mayo Clinic. Following an academic appointment as an Associate Professor in the Department of Immunology and Microbial Sciences at The Scripps Research Institute, Dr. McGavern joined the NINDS in March 2009. Dr. McGavern is the recipient of the prestigious Ray Thomas Edwards Foundation Award and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease Award. His laboratory at the NIH is focused on states of acute and persistent infection of the central nervous system (CNS) as well as traumatic brain injury (TBI). As Chief of the Viral Immunology and Intravital Imaging Section, Dr. McGavern investigates how the innate and adaptive immune systems participate in different neurological disorders such as meningitis, encephalitis, cerebral malaria, and TBI.

Selected Publications

  1. Roth TL, Nayak D, Atanasijevic T, Koretsky AP, Latour LL, McGavern DB. Transcranial amelioration of inflammation and cell death after brain injury. Nature. 2014;505(7482):223-8.
  2. Kim JV, Kang SS, Dustin ML, McGavern DB. Myelomonocytic cell recruitment causes fatal CNS vascular injury during acute viral meningitis. Nature. 2009;457(7226):191-5.
  3. Mastorakos P, Mihelson N, Luby M, Burks SR, Johnson K, Hsia AW, Witko J, Frank JA, Latour L, McGavern DB. Temporally distinct myeloid cell responses mediate damage and repair after cerebrovascular injury. Nat Neurosci. 2021;24(2):245-258.
  4. Choi BR, Johnson KR, Maric D, McGavern DB. Monocyte-derived IL-6 programs microglia to rebuild damaged brain vasculature. Nat Immunol. 2023;24(7):1110-1123.
  5. Rua R, Lee JY, Silva AB, Swafford IS, Maric D, Johnson KR, McGavern DB. Infection drives meningeal engraftment by inflammatory monocytes that impairs CNS immunity. Nat Immunol. 2019;20(4):407-419.

Related Scientific Focus Areas

This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 12, 2023