Nutritional immunology in health and disease

Researchers in NICHE conduct fundamental research which assess changes in markers of immune function associated with normal physiological and pathological disease processes.


The Nutritional Immunology research group within NICHE are recognised for their research into how food and nutrition influence the role of the immune system in health, inflammation, infection and disease. The human immune system functions to protect the body against foreign pathogens, preventing infection and disease. Malnutrition is the most common cause of immunodeficiency in the world and optimal functioning of the immune system, both innate and adaptive immunity, is strongly influenced by an individual's nutritional status. Furthermore, gene-nutrient interactions impact on immune response and are importance considerations researched in this group.

Nutrients currently under investigation by this group

Nutrient deficiencies result in immunosuppression and dysregulation of the immune response including impairment of phagocyte function and cytokine production, as well as adversely affecting aspects of humoral and cell-mediated immunity. Such alterations in immune function and the resulting inflammation are not only associated with infection but also with the development of chronic disease.

We investigate the complex relationship between specific nutrients and immune function using in vivo and in vitro techniques, as well as carrying out human intervention studies using participants from healthy populations, at-risk groups and clinical populations in our state-of-the-art facilities . Research conducted by the group has investigated the effects of micronutrients on inflammation, oxidative stress, diabetes and appetite, as well as its role in modulating the immune response during cancer development and metastasis, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis, endocrine disorders and cardiovascular disease. In partnership with industry and key stakeholders, our research aims to translate our findings into impactful applications for personal health, disease prevention and management.

Key Researchers

  • Dr Emeir McSorley (Group lead)
  • Dr Philip Allsopp
  • Dr Leanne Doherty
  • Dr Pamela Magee
  • Dr Maria Mulhern
  • Dr Kirsty Pourshahidi
  • Dr Patricia Rodriguez
  • Dr Liz Simpson
  • Dr Paul Thompson
  • Dr Alison Yeates

PhD Researchers

Mr Paul Cherry: Seaweeds as a source of non-digestible complex polysaccharide components for the development of novel prebiotic ingredients for the functional food industry.

  • Ms Orlagh Feehan: Vitamin D status and bone health of care homes residents within NI.
  • Ms Toni Spence: Methylmercury exposure and inflammation during pregnancy: implications for neurodevelopment
  • Mr Ethan Lowry: Investigating the link between diet and chronic musculoskeletal pain
  • Ms Laura Beggan: Early predictors of mental health: the role of prenatal vitamin D status in neurodevelopment disorders in offspring.
  • Ms Joanna Jurek: An investigation into the role of IL-33 and the Th17 axis on mercury associated inflammation.
  • Ms Anna Monaghan: The role of iodine in pregnancy and child development.
  • Ms Holly Neill: Biofortified meat: A potential vehicle for vitamin D enrichment and fortification (collaboration with Devenish Nutrition & AFBI).
  • Ms Dominique Glatt: 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration in school children: effects of vitamin D3 supplementation on 25(OH)D concentration and muscle health outcomes (in collaboration with Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh).

Recent publications

McSorley EM, van Wijngaarden E, Yeates AJ, Spence T, Mulhern MS, Harrington D, Thurston SW, Love T, Jusko TA, Allsopp PJ, Conway MC, Davidson PW, Myers GJ, Watson GE, Shamlaye CF, Strain JJ. Methylmercury and long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids are associated with immune dysregulation in young adults from the Seychelles child development study. Environ Res. 2020 Jan 7;183:109072. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2019.109072. [Epub ahead of print]

Yeates AJ, McSorley EM, Mulhern MS, Spence T, Crowe W, Grzesik K, Thurston SW, Watson GE, Myers GJ, Davidson PW, Shamlaye CF, van Wijngaarden E, Strain JJ. Associations between maternal inflammation during pregnancy and infant birth outcomes in the Seychelles Child Development Study. J Reprod Immunol. 2020 Feb;137:102623. doi: 10.1016/j.jri.2019.102623. Epub 2019 Oct 23.

Pourshahidi LK, Caballero E, Osses A, Hyland BW, Ternan NG & Gill CIR (2020) Modest improvement in CVD risk markers in older adults following quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) consumption: a randomized‑controlled crossover study with a novel food product. European Journal of Nutrition (online 09.01.20) doi:10.1007/s00394-019-02169-0.

Irwin JL, McSorley EM, Yeates AJ, Mulhern MS, Strain JJ, Watson GE, Grzesik K, Thurston SW, Love TM, Smith TH, Broberg K, Shamlaye CF, Myers GJ, Davidson PW, van Wijngaarden E. Maternal immune markers during pregnancy and child neurodevelopmental outcomes at age 20 months in the Seychelles Child Development Study. J Neuroimmunol. 2019 Oct 15;335:577023. doi: 10.1016/j.jneuroim.2019.577023. Epub 2019 Aug 14.

Cherry P, Yadav S, Strain CR, Allsopp PJ, McSorley EM, Ross RP, Stanton C. Prebiotics from Seaweeds: An Ocean of Opportunity? Mar Drugs. 2019 Jun 1;17(6). pii: E327. doi: 10.3390/md17060327. Review.

Cherry P, O'Hara C, Magee PJ, McSorley EM, Allsopp PJ. Risks and benefits of consuming edible seaweeds. Nutr Rev. 2019 May 1;77(5):307-329. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuy066.

Irwin JL, Yeates AJ, Mulhern MS, McSorley EM, Strain JJ, Watson GE, Grzesik K, Thurston SW, Love TM, Smith TH, Mruzek DW, Shamlaye CF, Monthy C, Myers GJ, Davidson PW, van Wijngaarden E. Maternal Gestational Immune Response and Autism Spectrum Disorder Phenotypes at 7 Years of Age in the Seychelles Child Development Study. Mol Neurobiol. 2019 Jul;56(7):5000-5008. doi: 10.1007/s12035-018-1424-y. Epub 2018 Nov 14.

Strain CR, Collins KC, Naughton V, McSorley EM, Stanton C, Smyth TJ, Soler-Vila A, Rea MC, Ross PR, Cherry P, Allsopp PJ. Effects of a polysaccharide-rich extract derived from Irish-sourced Laminaria digitata on the composition and metabolic activity of the human gut microbiota using an in vitro colonic model. Eur J Nutr. 2019 Feb 25. doi: 10.1007/s00394-019-01909-6. [Epub ahead of print]

Xu Y, Wahlberg K, Love TM, Watson GE, Yeates AJ, Mulhern MS, McSorley EM, Strain JJ, Davidson PW, Shamlaye CF, Rand MD, Myers GJ, van Wijngaarden E, Broberg K.  Associations of blood mercury and fatty acid concentrations with blood mitochondrial DNA copy number in the Seychelles Child Development Nutrition Study.Environ Int. 2019 Mar;124:278-283. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2019.01.019. Epub 2019 Jan 17.

Baldrick FR, McFadden K, Ibarsa M, Sunga C, Moffatt T, Megarry K, Thomas K, Mitchell P, Wallace JMW, Pourshahidi LK, Ternan NG, Corona G, Spencer J, Yaqoob P, Hotchkiss S, Campbell R, Moreno-Rojas JM, Cuevas FJ, Pereira-Caro G , Rowland I & Gill CIR (2018) Impact of a (poly)phenol-rich extract from the brown algae Ascophyllum nodosum on DNA damage and antioxidant activity in an overweight/obese population: a randomised controlled trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 108(4), 688-700.

Irwin JL, Yeates AJ, Mulhern MS, McSorley EM, Strain JJ, Watson GE, Grzesik K, Thurston SW, Love TM, Smith TH, Mruzek DW, Shamlaye CF, Monthy C, Myers GJ, Davidson PW, van Wijngaarden E. Maternal Gestational Immune Response and Autism Spectrum Disorder Phenotypes at 7 Years of Age in the Seychelles Child Development Study. Mol Neurobiol. 2018 Nov 14. doi: 10.1007/s12035-018-1424-y. [Epub ahead of print]

McSorley EM, Yeates AJ, Mulhern MS, van Wijngaarden E, Grzesik K, Thurston SW, Spence T, Crowe W, Davidson PW, Zareba G, Myers GJ, Watson GE, Shamlaye CF, Strain JJ. Associations of maternal immune response with MeHg exposure at 28 weeks' gestation in the Seychelles Child Development Study. Am J Reprod Immunol. 2018 Nov;80(5):e13046. doi: 10.1111/aji.13046. Epub 2018 Sep 17.

Todd JJ, McSorley EM, Pourshahidi LK, Madigan SM, Crowe W, Laird E, Healy M, McNeilly A & Magee PJ (2017) Oral spray wintertime vitamin D3 supplementation has no impact on inflammation in Gaelic footballers. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports 27(11), 1300-1307.

Pourshahidi LK, Wallace JMW, Mulhern MS, Horigan G, Strain JJ, McSorley EM, Magee PJ, Bonham MP & Livingstone MBE (2016) Indices of adiposity as predictors of cardiometabolic risk and inflammation in young adults. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 29(1), 26-37.

Carson EL, Pourshahidi LK, Madigan SM, Baldrick FR, Kelly MG, Laird E, Healy M, Strain JJ, Mulhern MS. Vitamin D status is associated with muscle strength and quality of life in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): a seasonal prospective observation study. International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 2018. 13:2613-22

Carson, EL, Pourshahidi, LK, Hill, TR, Cashman, K D, Strain, JJ, Boreham, C A, Mulhern, MS. Vitamin D, muscle function, and cardiorespiratory fitness in adolescents from the Young Hearts Study. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2015. 100 (12). 4621-8. doi: 10.1210/jc.2015-2956

Barnes MS, Horigan G, Cashman KD, Hill TR, Forsythe LK, Lucey AJ, Duffy EM, Kiely M, Bonham MP, Magee P, Strain JJ, Wallace JM.  Maintenance of Wintertime Vitamin D Status with Cholecalciferol Supplementation Is Not Associated with Alterations in Serum Cytokine Concentrations among Apparently Healthy Younger or Older Adults.  Journal of Nutrition 2011 141(3) 476-81 doi: 10.3945/jn.110.131516

Please contact Emeir McSorley for more information.

Dr Emeir McSorley

Senior Lecturer in Human Nutrition

School of Biomedical Sciences