Heather Hickman, Ph.D.

Heather Hickman, Ph.D.

Credit: NIAID
Chief, Viral Immunity and Pathogenesis Unit

Major Areas of Research

  • Anatomy of antiviral immune responses in infected peripheral tissue
  • Impact of lymph node anatomy on priming antiviral T- and B-cells
  • Role of chemotactic factors in antiviral T-cell effector function
  • Viral pathogenesis and immune clearance of infected tissues

Program Description

Generating protective antiviral immunity is a complex process that begins at the infection or vaccination site, amplifies in the regional draining lymph node, and culminates in the prevention or resolution of tissue infection. Rationally designed vaccines are based on maximizing beneficial cellular and humoral responses while minimizing overly zealous reactions causing host pathology.

To fully harness the power of the immune response, it is critical to understand not only the effector functions of lymphocytes, but also the anatomy of immune responses leading to host protection. For instance, the precise location of leukocytes in the skin determines whether permissive cells are accessible to vector-borne viruses; likewise, intradermal vaccines can be transported to the draining lymph node by skin-resident cells. Inside the lymph node, T-cells are primed in distinct microenvironments in processes that are incompletely understood. In peripheral tissues, little is known concerning the precise location and movement of immune effectors, including those of virus-specific T-cells or B-cells. The goal of the Immunity and Pathogenesis Unit is to generate a detailed understanding of immunity to viral infection and vaccination in lymphoid and peripheral tissues, with an emphasis on the role of the anatomy on immunity.

Image of antiviral T-cells surrounding infected cells

Antiviral T-cells (red) surround vaccinia-virus infected cells in the skin five days after infection using a bifurcated needle. This image was acquired using intravital multiphoton microscopy; the dermis of the skin is indicated by the presence of collagen (blue, second harmonic generation signal).



Dr. Heather Hickman received her Ph.D. (Microbiology and Immunology) from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in 2003. While training in the lab of Dr. William Hildebrand, she investigated the presentation of viral ligands by major histocompatibility class I molecules. In 2004, she joined the Laboratory of Viral Diseases (LVD) (NIAID), first as a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Jonathan Yewdell and later as a senior associate scientist. In the LVD, Dr. Hickman developed a research program aimed at better defining the mechanisms of adaptive immunity to viral infections using a number of different viruses as models (such as vaccinia, Zika, and influenza). Dr. Hickman became an Earl-Stadtman tenure-track investigator in the Viral Immunity and Pathogenesis Unit in 2017.

Research Group

Glennys Reynoso, RN, Biologist

John Shannon, Postbac

Daniel McManus, Postbac

Selected Publications

Hickman HD. New insights into antiviral immunity gained through intravital imaging. Curr Opin Virol. 2017 Feb;22:59-63. doi: 10.1016/j.coviro.2016.11.010.

Cush SS, Reynoso GV, Kamenyeva O, Bennink JR, Yewdell JW, Hickman HD. Locally Produced IL-10 Limits Cutaneous Vaccinia Virus Spread. PLoS Pathog. 2016 Mar 18;12(3):e1005493. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1005493.

Hickman HD, Reynoso GV, Ngudiankama BF, Cush SS, Gibbs J, Bennink JR, Yewdell JW. CXCR3 chemokine receptor enables local CD8(+) T cell migration for the destruction of virus-infected cells. Immunity. 2015 Mar 17;42(3):524-37. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2015.02.009.

Hickman HD. Imaging CD8+ T cells during diverse viral infections. Intravital. 2015 Jun 19;4(1):e1055425. doi: 10.1080/21659087.2015.1055425.

Hickman HD, Reynoso GV, Ngudiankama BF, Rubin EJ, Magadán JG, Cush SS, Gibbs J, Molon B, Bronte V, Bennink JR, Yewdell JW. Anatomically restricted synergistic antiviral activities of innate and adaptive immune cells in the skin. Cell Host Microbe. 2013 Feb 13;13(2):155-68. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2013.01.004.

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