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Jessica Osterhout

Assistant Professor of Neurobiology

Sickness Symptoms, Immune-brain Communication, Neural Circuits Controlling Sickness Behavior

Jessica Osterhout


Molecular Biology Program


B.S. University of Oregon

Ph.D. University of California, San Diego




The molecular, cellular and circuit mechanisms driving sickness symptoms and behaviors.

During an infection, animals exhibit a highly stereotyped set of sickness symptoms including fever, fatigue, body aches, changes to appetite, thirst and more. The brain controls changes in physiology and behavior, including those exhibited during infection, however very little is understood about how the brain senses a whole-body immune response and orchestrates the appropriate sickness symptoms.

The goal of the Osterhout lab is to understand how the brain senses an immune response and modulates specific cell types and neural circuits to make us feel sick. We use cutting-edge behavioral analyses to examine a range of symptoms exhibited during acute infection, chronic inflammation and other immune-activated states. We also take advantage of the latest single-cell approaches for analyzing the transcriptome and spatial organization of cells in the brain to better understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying immune-brain communication. Finally we utilize genetic and viral tools to better understand the role of specific cells and circuits in the generation of sickness behaviors.

By combining these approaches, we can address important questions: 1) how does the brain sense the immune response? 2) how are different sickness symptoms generated in response?

Lab Environment

We seek to establish an exciting and successful working environment in my lab. I firmly believe this is not possible without a diverse group of scientists who are willing to work together as collaborators, mentors, and hopefully friends, to one another. Students who will do well in my lab are scientifically curious, possess time-management and organizational skills, and are able to communicate effectively and respectfully with myself and fellow lab mates.


  1. Osterhout JA, Kapoor V, Eichhorn SW, Vaughn E, Moore JD, Lui D, Lee D, DeNardo LA, Luo L, Zhuang X, Dulac C (2022). A preoptic neuronal population controls fever and loss of appetite during sickness. Nature (606): 937- 944. 
  2. Li Y, Mathis A, Grewe BF, Osterhout JA, Ahanonu B, Schnitzer MJ, Murthy VN, Dulac C (2017) Neuronal representation of social information in the medial amygdala of awake behaving mice. Cell (5): 1176- 1190. 
  3. Osterhout JA, Nguyen PL, Yoshihara Y, Huberman AD (2015) Contactin-4 mediates axon-target specificity and functional development of the accessory optic system. Neuron (4): 855-57.
  4. Osterhout JA, El-Danaf RN, Nguyen PL, Huberman AD (2014) Birthdate and outgrowth timing predict cellular mechanisms of axon-target matching in the developing visual pathway. Cell Reports (8):1-12. 
  5. Osterhout JA, Josten N, Yamada J, Pan F, Wu SW, Nguyen PL, Panagiotakos G, Inoue YU, Egusa SF, Volgi B, Inoue T, Bloomfield SA, Barres BA, Berson DM, Feldheim DA, Huberman AD (2011) Cadherin-6 mediates axon- target matching in a non-image-forming visual circuit. Neuron (71):632-9. 
  6. Carney TD, Miller MR, Robinson KJ, Bayraktar OA, Osterhout JA, Doe CQ (2012) Functional genomics identifies neural stem cell sub-type expression profiles and genes regulating neuroblast homeostasis. Dev Biol (36):137-46. 
Last Updated: 7/21/23