Wilson Lab

The Wilson laboratory studies the human immune response to HIV-1 infection, the factors that drive HIV-1 pathogenesis in intestinal mucosal tissue, the mechanistic interactions between microbes and immune cells in the mucosa and the impact of physiological aging on the gut mucosal immune system. We take a translational research approach conducting both clinical studies and in vitro mechanistic studies with much of the work performed as a “collaboratory” with Dr. Mario Santiago in the Division of Infectious Diseases.  We also collaborate on various projects with colleagues both here at the University of Colorado and throughout the United States.

Dr. Mario Santiago, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, CO
Dr. Kristine Erlandson, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, CO
Dr. Daniel Frank, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, CO
Dr. Edward Barker, Rush University, Chicago, IL
Dr. Alan Landay, Rush University, Chicago, IL
Dr. Ivona Pandrea, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA

Role of Type I IFNs in Mucosal HIV-1 Immunity and Pathogenesis [R01, NIH/NIAID]
Primary Investigator: Dr. Cara Wilson and Dr. Mario Santiago
Co-investigators: Dr. Steph Dillon, Dr. Kejun Guo (Santiago Lab)
The main goal of this project is to investigate the mechanism(s) underlying the protective and pathological role of Type I IFNs in mucosal HIV-1 infection.

Gut Cytotoxic CD4 T cells in HIV-1 Pathogenesis [R01, NIH/NIAID]
Primary Investigators: Dr. Cara Wilson and Dr. Mario Santiago
Co-investigators: Dr. Steph Dillon, Dr. Kejun Guo (Santiago Lab)
The main goal of this project is to understand the biology of human gut cytotoxic CD4 T cells and their role in mucosal HIV-1 replication, CD4 T cell death and HIV-1-associated inflammation.

Dysregulated gut-microbe CD4 T cell interactions with Aging. [R21, NIH/NIA]
Primary Investigator: Dr. Cara Wilson
Co-investigators: Dr. Steph Dillon
The main goal of this project is to understand the effects of aging on microbiome-gut immune cell interactions.

SIV Pathogenesis in African Green Monkeys and Pigtailed Macaques [R01, NIH/NIAID]
Primary Investigator: Dr. Ivana Pandrea
Co-investigators: Dr. Wilson and Dr. Steph Dillon
The main goal of the project is to determine how diet and gut microbiome interact during SIV infection. 

Recently completed grant funding:

Switch from Homeostatic to Inflammatory Cytokines by NK/ILC in HIV-infected Gut [R01, NIH/NIAID]
Primary Investigators: Dr. Cara Wilson with Dr. Edward Barker.
Co-investigator: Dr. Steph Dillon
The goal of the project was to determine the impact of HIV-1 infection on gut natural killer/innate lymphoid cells.

Mechanisms of HIV-associated Gut T Cell Depletion [R01, NIH/NIAID]
Primary Investigator: Dr. Cara Wilson.
Co-investigators: Dr. Steph Dillon and Dr. Mario Santiago
The goal of this project was to determine the host, microbial and virological determinants governing killing of gut CD4+ T cells by R5-tropic HIV-1. 

Cara Wilson, MD

Portrait of Cara Wilson circa 2020I am a Professor of Medicine with tenure in the Division of Infectious Diseases and hold a secondary appointment in the Department of Immunology. My laboratory studies the human immune response to HIV-1 infection, the factors that drive HIV-1 pathogenesis in intestinal mucosal tissue, the mechanistic interactions between microbes/microbial products and immune cells in the mucosa and the impact of physiological aging on the gut mucosal immune system. We take a multidirectional approach to these investigations intersecting discoveries generated during research in the laboratory with knowledge gained from undertaking human clinical studies.

I am a dedicated educator and mentor and have mentored over 20 research trainees, ranging from pre-doctoral students to junior faculty. I previously served as a member of the Education, Training, and Career Development (ETCD) program of the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI) and have led the Pre K career development grant review program and co-led the KL2 program. I served as Vice Chair for Faculty Advancement and then as Executive Vice Chair for the Department of Medicine until July 2020, and in those roles promoted faculty career development and leadership training in research, clinical practice, and educational missions. I currently serve as Director of the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) at the University of Colorado and oversee all aspects of this dual M.D. and PhD training program. 

Steph Dillon, PhD

Portrait photo of Steph DillonI obtained by PhD in Immunology from the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. Toward the end of 2005, Dr. Wilson recruited me to the University of Colorado as a post-doctoral fellow and with her tremendous supervision, guidance, mentorship and friendship, I rose to Instructor and Assistant Research Professor. I now consider that my official hire date coinciding with “World AIDS Day” to be a fortuitous sign of things to come in my new career as a basic and translational HIV-1 research scientist! My research interests include understanding the impact of HIV-1 on innate immunity, the mechanisms that drive HIV-1-associated gut T cell depletion and the host-microbiome interactions in the setting of HIV-1 infection. Recently, I have expanded on my expertise in these areas and, with Dr. Wilson, have begun a new area of research broadly focused on understanding how these features are impacted in persons living with and without HIV as they age.

Kaylee Mickens BA/BS

Portrait photo of Kaylee MickensI am a PhD student researching cytotoxic CD4 T cells as they relate to gut mucosa and HIV. I was lucky to join the Santiago and Wilson collaboratory as a research assistant and to continue onto graduate education with this group.  When not doing research, I can be found hiking + trail running!






Sabrina Hafeez, BS

Sabrina Hafeez (Wilson Lab Member)

Hi! I am a Colorado native and recently graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder majoring in both molecular, cellular and developmental biology and biochemistry. As a research assistant in the Wilson lab, I am eager to play a role in elucidating the nuanced interactions between the human gut mucosa and immune cells in the context of HIV infection. It is one thing to learn about immunology and microbiology in a textbook, but to actually be a part of a current research endeavor in those fields is something I am so excited about pursuing in the Wilson lab!



NameTrainee TitleCurrent
Amanda Steele    Post-doctoral Fellow Scientific Writer, Denver, Colorado
Kevin RufnerGastroenterology FellowGastroenterologist, Denver, Colorado.
Rebecca (Alyson) YoderPost-doctoral Fellow  Scientific Writer, Denver, Colorado
Jay LiuInfectious Disease FellowInfectious Disease Specialist, Geneva, Illinois
Moriah Castleman Post-doctoral Fellow Research Associate, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
Jennifer ManuzakPhD Graduate Student   Assistant Professor, Tulane University
Jon Kibbie MD/PhD Graduate StudentDermatology Resident, University of Colorado School of Medicine


  • Castleman MJ, Dillon SM, Thompson TA, Santiago ML, McCarter MD, Barker E, Wilson CC. Gut Bacteria Induce Granzyme B Expression in Human Colonic ILC3s In Vitro in an IL-15-Dependent Manner.  J. Immunol. 2021, 206:1-10. In Press.
  • Dillon SM, Abdo MH, Wilson MP, Liu J, Jankowski CM, Robertson CE, Tuncil Y, Hamaker B, Frank DN, MaWhinney S, Wilson CC, Erlandson KM. A Unique Gut Microbiome-Physical Function Axis Exists in Older People with HIV: An Exploratory Study. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2021 doi: 10.1089/AID.2020.0283. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 33787299.
  • Dillon SM, Wilson CC. Gut Innate Immunity and HIV Pathogenesis. Curr HIV/AIDS Rep. 2021; 18(2):128-138. PMID: 33687703.
  • Dillon SM, Thompson TA, Christians AJ, McCarter MD, Wilson CC. Reduced immune-regulatory molecule expression on human colonic memory CD4 T cells in older adults. Immun Ageing. 2021 18(1):6. PMID: 33581731.
  • Castleman MJ, Dillon SM, Purba C, Cogswell AC, McCarter M, Barker E, Wilson C. Enteric bacteria induce IFNγ and Granzyme B from human colonic Group 1 Innate Lymphoid Cells. Gut Microbes. 2020; 12:1667723. PMID: 31583949
  • Guo K, Shen G, Kibbie J, Gonzalez T, Dillon SM, Smith HA, Cooper EH, Lavender K, Hasenkrug KJ, Sutter K, Dittmer U, Kroehl M, Kechris K, Wilson CC, Santiago ML. Qualitative Differences Between the IFNα subtypes and IFNβ Influence Chronic Mucosal HIV-1 Pathogenesis. PLoS Pathog. 2020; 16:e1008986. PMID: 33064743
  • Dillon SM, Wilson CC. What is the collective effect of aging and HIV on the gut microbiome?. Curr Opin HIV AIDS. 2020; 15:94-100 PMID: 31876548
  • Tuddenham SA, Koay WLA, Zhao N, White JR, Ghanem KG, Sears CL and . The Impact of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection on Gut Microbiota α-Diversity: An Individual-level Meta-analysis. Clin Infect Dis. 2020; 70:615-627. PMID: 30921452
  • Dillon SM, Liu J, Purba CM, Christians AJ, Kibbie JJ, Castleman MJ, McCarter MD, Wilson CC. Age-related alterations in human gut CD4 T cell phenotype, T helper cell frequencies, and functional responses to enteric bacteria. J Leukoc Biol. 2020; 107:119-132. PMID: 31573727.
  • He T, Xu C, Krampe N, Dillon SM, Sette P, Falwell E, Haret-Richter GS, Butterfield T, Dunsmore TL, McFadden WM Jr, Martin KJ, Policicchio BB, Raehtz KD, Penn EP, Tracy RP, Ribeiro RM, Frank DN, Wilson CC, Landay AL, Apetrei C, Pandrea I. High-fat diet exacerbates SIV pathogenesis and accelerates disease progression. J Clin Invest. 2019; 129:5474-5488. PMID 31710311.
  • Castleman MJ, Dillon SM, Purba CM, Cogswell AC, Kibbie JJ, McCarter MD, Santiago ML, Barker E, Wilson CC. Commensal and Pathogenic Bacteria Indirectly Induce IL-22 but Not IFNγ Production From Human Colonic ILC3s via Multiple Mechanisms. Front Immunol. 2019; 10:649. PMID: 30984202.
  • Liu J, Johnson R, Dillon S, Kroehl M, Frank DN, Tuncil YE, Zhang X, Ir D, Robertson CE, Seifert S, Higgins J, Hamaker B, Wilson CC, Erlandson KM. Among older adults, age-related changes in the stool microbiome differ by HIV-1 serostatus. EBioMedicine. 2019; 40:583-594. PMID: 30685386.
  • Dillon SM, Guo K, Austin GL, Gianella S, Engen PA, Mutlu EA, Losurdo J, Swanson G, Chakradeo P, Keshavarzian A, Landay AL, Santiago ML, Wilson CC. A compartmentalized type I interferon response in the gut during chronic HIV-1 infection is associated with immunopathogenesis. AIDS. 2018; 32:1599-1611. PMID: 29762170.
  • Dillon SM, Castleman MJ, Frank DN, Austin GL, Gianella S, Cogswell AC, Landay AL, Barker E, Wilson CC. Brief Report: Inflammatory Colonic Innate Lymphoid Cells Are Increased During Untreated HIV-1 Infection and Associated With Markers of Gut Dysbiosis and Mucosal Immune Activation. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2017; 76:431-437. PMID: 28825942.
  • Yoder AC, Guo K, Dillon SM, Phang T, Lee EJ, Harper MS, Helm K, Kappes JC, Ochsenbauer C, McCarter MD, Wilson CC, Santiago ML. The transcriptome of HIV-1 infected intestinal CD4+ T cells exposed to enteric bacteria. PLoS Pathog. 2017; 13:e1006226. PMID: 28241075.
  • Dillon SM, Kibbie J, Lee EJ, Guo K, Santiago ML, Austin GL, Gianella S, Landay AL, Donovan AM, Frank DN, McCarter MD, Wilson CC. Low abundance of colonic butyrate-producing bacteria in HIV infection is associated with microbial translocation and immune activation. AIDS. 2017; 31:511-521. PMID: 28002063.
  • Liu J, Williams B, Frank D, Dillon SM, Wilson CC, Landay AL. Inside Out: HIV, the Gut Microbiome, and the Mucosal Immune System. J Immunol. 2017; 198:605-614. PMID: 28069756.
  • Dillon SM, Frank DN, Wilson CC. The gut microbiome and HIV-1 pathogenesis: a two-way street. AIDS. 2016; 30(18):2737-2751. PMID: 27755100.
  • Dillon SM, Lee EJ, Donovan AM, Guo K, Harper MS, Frank DN, McCarter MD, Santiago ML, Wilson CC. Enhancement of HIV-1 infection and intestinal CD4+ T cell depletion ex vivo by gut microbes altered during chronic HIV-1 infection. Retrovirology. 2016; 14;13:5. PMID: 26762145.
  • Dillon SM, Lee EJ, Kotter CV, Austin GL, Gianella S, Siewe B, Smith DM, Landay AL, McManus MC, Robertson CE, Frank DN, McCarter MD, Wilson CC. Gut dendritic cell activation links an altered colonic microbiome to mucosal and systemic T-cell activation in untreated HIV-1 infection. Mucosal Immunol. 2016; 9:24-37. PMID: 25921339.
  • Harper MS, Guo K, Gibbert K, Lee EJ, Dillon SM, Barrett BS, McCarter MD, Hasenkrug KJ, Dittmer U, Wilson CC, Santiago ML. Interferon-α Subtypes in an Ex Vivo Model of Acute HIV-1 Infection: Expression, Potency and Effector Mechanisms. PLoS Pathog. 2015; 11:e1005254. PMID: 26529416.