Johns Hopkins Univ.
Erika L. Pearce, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins Univ., is the recipient of the 2020 AAI-BD Biosciences Investigator Award in recognition of her outstanding research contributions on the role of metabolism in controlling immune responses.
Dr. Pearce began her immunological research as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, where she trained under the mentorship of Drs. Steven Reiner and Hao Shen. Her productive graduate research resulted in a first-author publication in Science describing control of CD8+ effector T cell function by the transcription factor Eomesodermin. During her postdoctoral fellowship in Dr. Yongwon Choi’s laboratory at Penn, she connected immune function with changes in metabolism by showing that CD8+ memory T cell development could be enhanced after vaccination by modulating fatty acid metabolism.
After establishing her independent laboratory, Pearce has continued to define mechanisms of metabolic control of lymphocyte activation and memory. Her laboratory showed that aerobic glycolysis is required for posttranscriptional control of T cell cytokine production and effector function. She reported that cell intrinsic lipolysis supports the development of CD8+ memory T cells after infection. Pearce also demonstrated that interleukin-15 controls the stability of CD8+ memory T cells by regulating mitochondrial respiratory capacity.
She showed that CD28 signaling during T cell activation primes mitochondria with latent metabolic capacity essential for a memory response. She recently reported that lipid metabolism regulates mitochondrial integrity to modulate regulatory T cell suppressive function.
Pearce has also described changes in the cellular metabolism of lymphocytes in the tumor microenvironment, showing that glucose consumption by tumors metabolically restricts T cells and mediates their hyporesponsiveness. She further demonstrated that acetate can rescue effector function in glucose-restricted T cells, suggesting a therapeutic target to promote T cell function during cancer.
“Given that her outstanding and productive research career has defined much of what we know about immunometabolism, she stands as a tremendously important thought leader and standard-bearer in the field,” says Elizabeth Leadbetter, associate professor, UT Health San Antonio. In addition to Pearce’s scholarship, Leadbetter notes her commitment to professional service and mentoring: “She continues to make selfless contributions to the scientific research community, her students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty, especially women.”
Pearce received her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 2005. Following a postdoctoral fellowship at the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute at Penn, she assumed an appointment as an assistant member at the Trudeau Institute. In 2011 she moved to the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, where she was first an assistant professor and then promoted to associate professor in the Department of Pathology and Immunology. In 2015 she assumed her current position as director and senior group leader in the Department of Immunometabolism at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. In January 2021, she will begin serving as Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and Scientific Director, Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD.
Pearce has been honored with the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, an Investigator in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease Award from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and a Young Investigator Award from the Emerald Foundation. She is a frequently invited speaker at academic institutions and conferences in the United States and abroad. She serves on the editorial boards of Annual Review of Immunology, Cell Metabolism, Cell, and Trends in Immunology, and she is on the scientific advisory boards of the Biomedicine Research Institute of Buenos Aires-CONICET-MPSP, Future of Immunology at Charité, Rheos Medicines, and ImmunoMet Therapeutics. Pearce has been an AAI member since 2010 and has served AAI as a member of the Program Committee and as a major symposium speaker at the AAI annual meeting.