Honors & Awards

  • Jump Start Awardee for Excellence in Research, Grant Writing Academy - Stanford’s Jump Start Awards for Excellence in Research (09/2021)
  • BMT T32 Training Fellow, The Training Program in Hematopoetic Transplantation (04/2021)

Professional Education

  • Bachelor of Science, Howard University (2014)
  • Doctor of Philosophy, Univ Texas Health Sci Ctr/San Antonio (2020)
  • Ph.D., University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Immunology/Microbiology (2020)
  • B.S., Howard University, Biology (2014)

Stanford Advisors

All Publications

  • Redox status regulates autophagy in thymic stromal cells and promotes T cell tolerance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Semwal, M. K., Hester, A. K., Xiao, Y., Udeaja, C., Cepeda, S., Verschelde, J. S., Jones, N., Wedemeyer, S. A., Emtage, S., Wimberly, K., Griffith, A. V. 2022; 119 (40): e2204296119


    Thymic stromal cells (TSCs) are critical regulators of T cell tolerance, but their basic biology has remained under-characterized because they are relatively rare and difficult to isolate. Recent work has revealed that constitutive autophagy in TSCs is required for self-antigen presentation and central T cell tolerance induction; however, the mechanisms regulating constitutive autophagy in TSCs are not well understood. Hydrogen peroxide has been shown to increase autophagy flux in other tissues, and we previously identified conspicuously low expression of the hydrogen peroxide-quenching enzyme catalase in TSCs. We investigated whether the redox status of TSCs established by low catalase expression regulates their basal autophagy levels and their capacity to impose central T cell tolerance. Transgenic overexpression of catalase diminished autophagy in TSCs and impaired thymocyte clonal deletion, concomitant with increased frequencies of spontaneous lymphocytic infiltrates in lung and liver and of serum antinuclear antigen reactivity. Effects on clonal deletion and autoimmune indicators were diminished in catalase transgenic mice when autophagy was rescued by expression of the Becn1F121A/F121A knock-in allele. These results suggest a metabolic mechanism by which the redox status of TSCs may regulate central T cell tolerance.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.2204296119

    View details for PubMedID 36161925

  • Redox regulation of age-associated defects in generation and maintenance of T cell self-tolerance and immunity to foreign antigens. Cell reports Hester, A. K., Semwal, M. K., Cepeda, S., Xiao, Y., Rueda, M., Wimberly, K., Venables, T., Dileepan, T., Kraig, E., Griffith, A. V. 2022; 38 (7): 110363


    Thymic atrophy reduces naive T cell production and contributes to increased susceptibility to viral infection with age. Expression of tissue-restricted antigen (TRA) genes also declines with age and has been thought to increase autoimmune disease susceptibility. We find that diminished expression of a model TRA gene in aged thymic stromal cells correlates with impaired clonal deletion of cognate T cells recognizing an autoantigen involved in atherosclerosis. Clonal deletion in the polyclonal thymocyte population is also perturbed. Distinct age-associated defects in the generation of antigen-specific T cells include a conspicuous decline in generation of T cells recognizing an immunodominant influenza epitope. Increased catalase activity delays thymic atrophy, and here, we show that it mitigates declining production of influenza-specific T cells and their frequency in lung after infection, but does not reverse declines in TRA expression or efficient negative selection. These results reveal important considerations for strategies to restore thymic function.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.celrep.2022.110363

    View details for PubMedID 35172147

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC8898380

  • Prenatal cannabis exposure - The "first hit" to the endocannabinoid system. Neurotoxicology and teratology Richardson, K. A., Hester, A. K., McLemore, G. L. 2016; 58: 5-14


    As more states and countries legalize medical and/or adult recreational marijuana use, the incidences of prenatal cannabis exposure (PCE) will likely increase. While young people increasingly view marijuana as innocuous, marijuana preparations have been growing in potency in recent years, potentially creating global clinical, public health, and workforce concerns. Unlike fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, there is no phenotypic syndrome associated with PCE. There is also no preponderance of evidence that PCE causes lifelong cognitive, behavioral, or functional abnormalities, and/or susceptibility to subsequent addiction. However, there is compelling circumstantial evidence, based on the principles of teratology and fetal malprogramming, suggesting that pregnant women should refrain from smoking marijuana. The usage of marijuana during pregnancy perturbs the fetal endogenous cannabinoid signaling system (ECSS), which is present and active from the early embryonic stage, modulating neurodevelopment and continuing this role into adulthood. The ECSS is present in virtually every brain structure and organ system, and there is also evidence that this system is important in the regulation of cardiovascular processes. Endocannabinoids (eCBs) undergird a broad spectrum of processes, including the early stages of fetal neurodevelopment and uterine implantation. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical in cannabis, enters maternal circulation, and readily crosses the placental membrane. THC binds to CB receptors of the fetal ECSS, altering neurodevelopment and possibly rewiring ECSS circuitry. In this review, we discuss the Double-Hit Hypothesis as it relates to PCE. We contend that PCE, similar to a neurodevelopmental teratogen, delivers the first hit to the ECSS, which is compromised in such a way that a second hit (i.e., postnatal stressors) will precipitate the emergence of a specific phenotype. In summary, we conclude that perturbations of the intrauterine milieu via the introduction of exogenous CBs alter the fetal ECSS, predisposing the offspring to abnormalities in cognition and altered emotionality. Based on recent experimental evidence that we will review here, we argue that young women who become pregnant should immediately take a "pregnant pause" from using marijuana.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.ntt.2016.08.003

    View details for PubMedID 27567698