Dr. Barrientos is a behavioral neuroscientist researching the deleterious effects of an immune challenge (such as a
serious bacterial infection, or surgery) on long-term memory.
These immune challenges are accompanied by an inflammatory response in the brain, and often, these responses are
adaptive and beneficial. However, when the immune cells of the brain, microglia, are sensitized, subsequent immune
challenges produce exaggerated and prolonged inflammatory responses. These sustained levels of inflammation in
the hippocampus region of the brain severely inhibit synaptic plasticity processes and lead to impairments in longterm
contextual and spatial memory. Advanced age and consumption of high-fat/sugar diets have independently
been shown to sensitize microglia and thus increase the vulnerability to memory disruptions following an immune
The goals of my research are to characterized the important factors in aging and high fat/sugar diet consumption that
sensitize microglia, to understand the mechanisms involved in these responses, and to develop effective
interventions to not only prevent, but to reverse the detrimental neurological and cognitive outcomes produced by
these immune challenges.