Michael Axthelm

Nonhuman primates have long been recognized for their value as comparative models for basic human infectious disease pathogenesis research; human vaccine development, efficacy testing and safety evaluation; and for the investigation of fundamental questions in basic immunology.

Michael Axthelm and his team focus on improving nonhuman primates for use as models for AIDS-related research, nonhuman primate virology and developing new nonhuman primate models for human viral diseases. His laboratory is developing major histocompatibility complex-defined, specific pathogen free rhesus macaque breeding resources. The overall goal is to enhance the rhesus macaque as a model for investigating viral pathobiology and immunobiology, and vaccine development relevant to human HIV infection and AIDS-related opportunistic infections.

Current research projects include 1) investigation of the role of T cell dynamics in simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) infection, and delineation of viral mechanisms of pathogenesis targeting these dynamics, 2) development of rhesus cytomegalovirus-vectored vaccines for SIV, 3) evaluating mucosal vaccine strategies against SIV/HIV, 4) vaccine strategies for emerging viral and bacterial diseases and 5) identification and characterization of new viral agents and viral-associated disease states in nonhuman primates, which currently include spontaneous multiple sclerosis-like demyelinating encephalomyelitis associated with a novel gammma-2 herpesvirus, and progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy in immunosuppressed macaques associated with variant simian virus 40 polyomavirus.

Off-site and collaborating scientists receive resources and expertise for nonhuman primate infectious disease studies through an Infectious Disease-related Nonhuman Primate Research Protocol Management and Support Program directed by Dr. Axthelm. The program also aids new Center investigators in their transition from small animal- or human –based research programs to nonhuman primates.


Dr. Axthelm completed his D.V.M. degree and pathology residency program at Kansas State University and is a board-certified veterinary anatomic pathologist. He then went to the Ohio State University for postdoctoral training and received his Ph.D. in viral pathogenesis degree in 1985. He was an assistant professor at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine until joining the Primate Research Center staff in 1986. Currently, Dr. Axthelm is an associate scientist in the Division of Pathobiology and Immunology, Oregon National Primate Research Center, and Senior Scientist in the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute.

Key Publications

Axthelm MK, Koralnik IJ, Dang X, Wuthrich C, Rohne D, Stillman IE, Letvin NL. Meningoencephalitis and demyelination are pathologic manifestations of primary polyomavirus infection in immunosuppressed rhesus monkeys. J Neuropathol Exp Neurol 63(7):750-758, 2004.

Picker LJ, Hagen SI, Lum R, Reed-Inderbitzin EF, Daly LM, Sylwester AW, Walker JM, Siess DC, Piatak Jr M, Wang C, Allison DB, Maino VC, Lifson JD, Kodama T, Axthelm, MK. Insufficient production and tissue delivery of CD4+memory T cells in rapidly progressive simian immunodeficiency virus infection. J Exp Med 200(10):1299-1314, 2004.

Okoye A, Meier-Schellersheim M, Brenchley JM, Hagen SI, Walker JM, Rohankhedkar M, Lum R, Edgar JB, Planer SL, Legasse A, Sylwester AW, Piatak M Jr, Lifson JD, Maino VC, Sodora DL, Douek DC, Axthelm MK, Grossman Z, Picker LJ. Progressive CD4+ central memory T cell decline results in CD4+ effector memory insufficiency and overt disease in chronic SIV infection. J Exp Med 204(9):2171-2185, 2007.

See a full listing of Dr. Axthelm's publications.