James J Pestka

University Distinguished Professor, Department of Microbiology, Genetics, & Immunology
University Distinguished Professor, BioMolecular Science Gateway
Location: 4176 Biomed Phys Sci
Profile photo of  James J Pestka
Photo of: James J Pestka


B.S., 1975, State University College at Buffalo
Ph.D., 1979, Cornell University
Post-doctoral studies: 1979-1982, University of Wisconsin-Madison

While heredity is a primary predisposing factor for autoimmunity, cumulative exposures to environmental factors such as toxic stressors and diet greatly impact latency and severity autoimmune diseases such as lupus.  Our laboratory’s goal is to understand how lupus triggering by an ubiquitous environmental toxicant can be prevented by dietary modulation of cellular lipids (see video).  This goal is predicated on preliminary studies revealing that 1)airway exposure to crystalline silica, a recognized autoimmune disease risk factor, triggers early onset of systemic autoimmunity and glomerulonephritis in the lupus-prone female NZBWF1 mouse and  2)supplementing their diets with the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a well-known dietary supplement extracted from cold-water fish,  dose-dependently blocks this triggering.  We employ in vitro, ex vivo, and in vivo approaches to test the hypothesis that DHA consumption prevents silica-triggered autoimmunity by suppressing inflammatory mediator production, death, and self-antigen release in alveolar macrophages of NZBWF1 mice. Revealing DHA mechanisms against silica-triggered lupus will bring novel insights into how respiratory toxicants initiate lupus and subsequent flaring via lung as well as how manipulating cellular lipids through diet can be exploited to prevent environmental triggering of human autoimmune disease.

Dr. Pestka's honors include: Robert and Carol Deibel Endowed Professorship for Lupus Research (2017); Promotion to University Distinguished Professorship at MSU in 2011; Distinguished Faculty Award, MSU 1999; Distinguished Faculty Award, MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), 1996; Elected Fellow of Academy of Microbiology, 1995; Elected to Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, 1995; Harvey W. Wiley Award, Association of Official Analytical Chemists, 1993; Junior Faculty Meritorious Research Award, MSU Chapter of Sigma Xi, 1992; Carl G. Smith Award, MSU CANR, 1992; Samuel Cate Prescott Award, Institute of Food Technologists, 1988; Teacher-Scholar Award, MSU, 1987; Wise and Helen Burroughs Lectureship, Nutritional Sciences Council of Iowa State University, 1986; Young Faculty International Travel Award, MSU CANR, 1986; Dean's Award for Outstanding Teaching in Microbiology, Cornell University, 1978.


  • MMG 499: Undergraduate Research