Personal profile


Dr Jill Johnson is a Lecturer and Principal Investigator at Aston University in Birmingham, UK. Dr Johnson’s current research interests focus on the role of pericytes in chronic lung disease, specifically investigating the progenitor cell capacity of these cells and their ability to contribute to the pathogenesis of pulmonary fibrosis

Dr Johnson received her PhD in 2007 from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada with a focus on the biology of allergic asthma. She subsequently moved to the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr Jonas Fuxe to perform studies on the transcriptional regulation of epithelial-mesenchymal transition in cancer and allergic asthma. Dr Johnson then took up a second postdoctoral fellowship carried out in the laboratory of Prof Qutayba Hamid at the Meakins-Christie Laboratories at McGill University in Montréal, Québec, Canada to investigate epithelial-mesenchymal transition in primary bronchial epithelial cells derived from healthy subjects and severe asthmatics. Dr Johnson then held a Research Fellow position at Imperial College London from December 2011 to April 2016 in the Leukocyte Biology section of the National Heart and Lung Institute, Faculty of Medicine where she began studying the role of tissue-resident mesenchymal progenitor cells (pericytes) in driving lung fibrosis.

Other activities include working as a freelance proofreader, teaching immunology at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and performing peer reviews for a number of journals in the respiratory field and in general biological sciences. Jill has organized and taken part in an number of public engagement events such as Science Uncovered at the Natural History Museum, MRC Centenary events at the Science Museum and Southbank Observation Point, and Synapse with Girlguiding, and is a member of ScienceGrrl, a grassroots organisation celebrating and supporting women in science.


BSc in Honours Biology and Pharmacology Summa Cum Laude, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, 2002

PhD, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, 2007

PhD Supervisor: Manel Jordana, MD PhD
Research Project: Immunological and pharmacological intervention in a novel mouse model of chronic allergic airway disease

Research Interests

Dr Johnson’s research focuses on the role of vascular pericytes in allergic asthma, specifically the progenitor cell capacity of these cells and their contribution to asthma pathogenesis. One of the hallmarks of asthma, airway remodelling, is thought to be facilitated by a chronic inflammatory process driven by allergen exposure. Airway remodelling results in irreversible modifications to structural cells of the airway, ultimately leading to airway narrowing and breathing difficulties.  However, unanswered questions remain regarding the cell types that contribute to remodelling, the influence of growth factors and the recruitment of lung-resident progenitor cells.

These areas of interest led Jill to investigate pericytes and their roles in asthma. Pericytes are elongated, branched mesenchymal cells that support blood vessels.  Pericytes have been described as tissue-specific mesenchymal progenitor cells, and represent an opportunity to extend our knowledge of adult stem cells to understand disease pathogenesis and potential therapeutic interventions.

In the Johnson lab, an established mouse model of asthma driven by chronic respiratory exposure to house dust mite (HDM) is used to induce chronic allergic asthma in a way that closely mimics human asthma. We have demonstrated that, following chronic HDM exposure, pericytes detach from the microvasculature and accumulate within the smooth muscle bundles of the airways, thus contributing to airway remodelling and lung dysfunction (Johnson et al., AJP Lung 2015). Pericytes in the respiratory microvasculature are evaluated in control mice as well as in HDM-exposed mice using immunofluorescent confocal microscopy, FACS analysis and cell culture. Other projects in the Johnson lab are investigating the molecular mechanisms by which chronic inflammation affects mesenchymal progenitor cell differentiation and migration and assessing the impact of smoke exposure and oxidative stress on pericyte function in COPD

Teaching Activity

Dr Johnson is an instructor on the following modules:

BY1IM1 – Introductory Immunology
BY2PA2 – Molecular Pathology
BY3BD2 – Biological Basis of Human Disease
BI4005 – Human Disease
BI4103 – Transplantation Biology
BI4106 – Tissue regeneration

Membership of Professional Bodies

Member of the British Society for Immunology

Contact Details

Room: MB 438Q
Tel: +44 (0) 121 204 3264

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being


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