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Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience



I received a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology and a Bachelor of Arts in Swedish Language and Literature concurrently in 1983 from the University of Washington, in Seattle.  Having resolved to choose science over literature, I worked for a couple of years as a research technician for Dr. Don Pious at the UW, on a project concerned with the genetics of the human major histocompatibility complex. I then went to Harvard to do my doctoral work with Prof. Bruce Spiegelman, where we were involved in the early days of gene targeting in embryonic stem cells; and I knocked out the c-fos and c-jun proto-oncogenes, amongst others, while receiving a Ph.D. in Genetics.  I did my post-doctoral work as a Jane Coffin Childs Fellow with Prof. Doug Hanahan when he was at UC San Francisco, working on the role of angiogenesis in transgenic tumor models.  I began my career as a group leader in the Dept. of Biology at the University of California, San Diego. There, our lab began our study of hypoxia and its effects on tumorigenesis and physiology, continuing to use knockout and other genetic models.  In 2011, I came to Cambridge and the Dept. of PDN as a Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow. In 2012 I became an associated member of the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology of the Karolinska Institute, in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2015 I became a member of the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute. In 2018 I renewed my Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellowship.


We work on how the body responds to hypoxia, or low levels of tissue oxygen.  This is relevant to a number of diseases, including cancer, and the laboratory is interested in hypoxic response in disease as well as in normal physiology.

  • The response to hypoxia acts in significant part through the Hypoxia Inducible Factor, or HIF.  The actions of this transcription factor are evident in almost all forms of cancer, but HIF is also present in other disease states.  Further, many aspects of normal physiological response include activation of HIF: HIF expression is seen in normal embryonic development, it is seen whenever wound healing or inflammation occur, and is essential for adjustment to high altitude or whenever the organism experiences a lower than normal level of oxygen.
  • Cancer: our work has for many years focussed on how malignant cells and the tissues that surround and infiltrate them react to oxygen levels.  The levels of oxygen found vary tremendously both from cancer to cancer, and within individual tumors.  One of the key findings from our recent work has been that each cell type found within tumors utilizes the HIF response differently; the malignant cells, tumor-associated fibroblasts, myeloid cells, endothelial cells and lymphoid cells all have different spectra of response via HIF, and these differences impact how tumors grow, survive and, ultimately, metastasize.
  • Inflammation, infection and immunity: We have investigated how T cells and macrophages utilize hypoxic response to allow immune response.  We are actively investigating this in terms of models of infection, inflammation, and immunological response to cancer; and we are also asking how myeloid/lymphoid interactions are affected by the response to oxygenation.
  • Physiology: a critical aspect of ventilatory control is the normative response of the carotid body and other tissues to the organisms overall oxygenation.  This response in turn can affect various aspects of homeostasis, including pulmonary vascular tension and even systemic blood pressure.  We have found that this control is highly related to the function of HIF and hypoxic response, in a way that is tightly controlled by complex interactions amongst tissue types.


Dr Cristina Branco-Price, Research Associate
Dr Andrew Cowburn, Senior Research Associate


Key publications: 

Torres-Torrelo H, Ortega-Saenz P, Macias D, Omura M, Zhou T, Matsunami H, Johnson RS, Mombaerts P, and Lopez-Barneo J. (2018) The role of Olfr78 in the breathing circuit of mice. Nature 561:E33-E40

Macias D, Cowburn AS, Torres-Torrelo H, Ortega-Saenz P, Lopez-Barneo J, and Johnson RS. (2018) HIF-2a is essential for carotid body development and function. eLife 7:e34681

Sim J, Cowburn AS, Palazon A, Madhu B, Tyrakis PA, Macias D, Bargiela DM, Pietsch S, Gralla M, Evans CE, Kittipassorn T, Chey YCJ, Branco CM, Rundqvist H, Peet DJ, and Johnson RS. (2018) The Factor Inhibiting HIF aspariginyl hydroxylase regulates oxidative metabolism and accelerates metabolic adaptation to hypoxia. Cell Metabolism 27:898-913

Palazon A, Tyrakis PA, Macias D, Veliça P, Rundqvist H, Fitzpatrick S, Vojnovic N, Phan AT, Loman N, Hedenfalk I, Hatschek T, Lövrot J, Foukakis T, Goldrath AW, Bergh J, and Johnson RS. (2017) A HIF-1a/VEGF-A axis in cytotoxic T cells regulates tumor progression. Cancer Cell 32(5):669–683

Cowburn AS, Macias D, Summers C, Chilvers ER, and Johnson RS. (2017) Cardiovascular adaptation to hypoxia and the role of peripheral resistanceeLife 6:e28755 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.28755

Luecke-Johansson S, Gralla M, Rundqvist H, Ho JC, Johnson RS, Gradin K, and Poellinger L. (2017) A molecular mechanism to switch the aryl hydrocarbon receptor from a transcription factor to an E3 ubiquitin ligase. Molecular and Cellular Biology 37:e00630-16

Horscroft J, Kotwica A, Laner V, West JA, Hennis P, Levett D, Howard D, Fernandez B, Burgess S, Ament Z, Gilbert-Kawai E, Vercueil A, Landis B, Mitchell K, Mythen M, Branco C, Johnson RS, Feelisch M, Montgomery H, Griffin J, Grocott M, Gnaiger E, Martin DS, and Murray AJ. (2017) Metabolic basis to Sherpa altitude adaptation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114:6382-6387

Thompson AAR, Dickinson RS, Murphy F, Thomson JP, Marriott HM, Tavares A, Willson J, Williams L, Lewis A, Mirchandani A, Coelho PDS, Doherty C, Ryan E, Watts E, Morton NM, Forbes S, Stimson RS, Hameed AG, Arnold N, Preston JA, Lawrie A, Finisguerra V, Mazzone M, Sadiku P, Goveia J, Taverna F, Carmeliet P, Foster SJ, Chilvers ER, Cowburn AS, Dockrell DH, Johnson RS, Meehan RR, Whyte MKB, and Walmsley SR. (2017) Hypoxia determines survival outcomes of bacterial infection through HIF-1α–dependent reprogramming of leukocyte metabolism. Science Immunology 2(8) DOI: 10.1126/sciimmunol.aal2861

Evans CE, Palazon A, Sim J, Tyrakis PA, Prodger A, Lu X, Chan S, Bendahl PO, Belting M, Von Euler L, Rundqvist H, Johnson RS, and Branco C. (2017) Modelling pulmonary microthrombosis coupled to metastasis: distinct effects of thrombogenesis on tumorigenesisBiology Open 

Tyrakis P, Palazon A, Macias D,  Kian LL, Phan AT, Veliça P, You J, Chia GS, Sim J, Doedens A, Abelanet A, Evans CE, Griffiths JR, Poellinger L, Goldrath AW and Johnson RS. (2016) S-2-hydroxyglutarate regulates CD8+ T-lymphocyte fate.  Nature 540:236-241

Phan AT, Doedens AL, Palazon A, Tyrakis PA, Cheung KP, Johnson RS, and Goldrath AW. (2016) Constitutive Glycolytic Metabolism Supports CD8+ T Cell Effector Memory Differentiation during Viral Infection.  Immunity 45(5):1024-1037

Cowburn AS, Crosby A, Macias D, Branco C, Colaço R, Southwood M, Toshner M, Crotty Alexander L, Morrell N, Chilvers ER, and Johnson RS. (2016) HIF2α-arginase axis is essential for the development of pulmonary hypertension.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113 (31), 8801-8806

Yamamoto H, Rundqvist H, Branco C, and Johnson RS. (2016) Autocrine VEGF isoforms differentially regulate endothelial cell behavior. Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology 4:99

Evans CE, Bendahl PO, Belting M, Branco C, and Johnson RS. (2016) Diverse roles of cell-specific hypoxia-inducible factor 1 in cancer-associated hypercoagulation. Blood 127(10):1355-60.

Bleymehl K, Pérez-Gómez A, Omura M, Moreno-Pérez A, Macías D, Bai Z, Johnson RS, Leinders-Zufall T, Zufall F, and Mombaerts P. (2016) A Sensor for Low Environmental Oxygen in the Mouse Main Olfactory Epithelium. Neuron 92:1196-1203

Johnson RS, Titze J, and Weller R. (2016) Cutaneous control of blood pressure. Current Opinion Nephrology and Hypertension 25:11-15

Guimarães-Camboa N, Stowe J, Aneas I, Sakabe N, Cattaneo P, Henderson L, Kilberg MS, Johnson RS, Chen J, McCulloch AD, Nobrega MA, Evans SM, and Zambon AC. (2015). HIF1α Represses Cell Stress Pathways to Allow Proliferation of Hypoxic Fetal Cardiomyocytes. Developmental Cell 33(5):507-21

Koh HS, Chang CY, Jeon SB, Yoon HJ, Ahn YH, Kim HS, Kim IH, Jeon SH, Johnson RS, and Park EJ. (2015). The HIF-1/glial TIM-3 axis controls inflammation-associated brain damage under hypoxia. Nature Communications 6:6340

Ashmore T, Fernandez BO, Evans CE, Huang Y, Branco-Price C, Griffin JL, Johnson RS, Feelisch M, and Murray AJ. (2015) Suppression of erythropoiesis by dietary nitrate. FASEB Journal 29(3):1102-1112

Ashmore T, Fernandez BO, Branco-Price C, West JA, Cowburn AS, Heather LC, Griffin JL, Johnson RS, Feelisch M, and Murray AJ. (2014) Dietary nitrate increases arginine availability and protects mitochondrial complex I and energetics in the hypoxic rat heart. Journal of Physiology 592(Pt 21):4715-4731

Palazon A, Goldrath AW, Nizet V, and Johnson RS. (2014), HIF transcription factors, inflammation, and immunity, Immunity, 41(4):518-28

Lee YS, Kim JW, Osborne O, Oh da Y, Sasik R, Schenk S, Chen A, Chung H, Murphy A, Watkins SM, Quehenberger O, Johnson RS, and Olefsky JM. (2014), Increased Adipocyte O2 Consumption Triggers HIF-1α, Causing Inflammation and Insulin Resistance in Obesity, Cell, 157:1339-1352

Cowburn AS, Takeda N, Boutin AT, Kim J, Sterling J, Nakasaki M, Southwood M, Goldrath AW, Jamora C, Nizet V, Chilvers E, and Johnson RS (2013), Differential regulation of systemic arterial pressure by the skin: role of HIF isoforms, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110:17570-17575

Doedens AL, Phan AT, Stradner MH, Fujimoto JK, Nguyen JV, Yang E, Johnson RS, and Goldrath AW. (2013), Hypoxia inducible factors enhance CD8+ T cell effector responses to persistent antigen, Nature Immunology, 14:1173-1182

Kim J, Evans C, Weidemann A, Takeda N, Lee YS, Stockmann C, Branco-Price C, Brandberg F, Leone G, Ostrowski MC, and Johnson RS. (2012), Loss of Fibroblast HIF-1a accelerates tumorigenesis, Cancer Research, 72:3187-3195

Branco-Price C, Zhang N, Schnelle M, Evans C, Katschinski DM, Liao D, Ellies L, and Johnson RS. (2012), Endothelial cell HIF-1a and HIF-2a differentially regulate metastatic success, Cancer Cell, 21:52-65

Doedens A, Stockmann C, Rubinstein M, Liao D, Zhang N, DeNardo D, Coussens LM, Karin M, Goldrath A, and Johnson RS. (2010), Macrophage expression of HIF-1 suppresses T cell function and promotes tumor progression, Cancer Research, 70:7465-7475

Zhang N, Fu Z, Linke S, Chicher J, Gorman JJ, Poellinger L, Peet DJ, Powell F, and Johnson RS. (2010), The asparaginyl hydroxylase FIH is an essential regulator of metabolism, Cell Metabolism, 11:364-378

Takeda N, O’Dea EL, Doedens A, Kim J-W, Weidemann A, Stockmann C, Asagiri M, Simon MC, Hoffmann A, and Johnson RS. (2010), Differential activation and antagonistic function of HIF-a isoforms in macrophages are essential for NO homeostasis, Genes and Development, 24:491-501

Stockmann C, Kerdiles Y, Nomaksteinsky M, Weidemann A, Takeda N, Doedens A, Torres-Collado AX, Iruela-Arispe L, Nizet V, and Johnson RS. (2010), Loss of myeloid cell-derived growth factor accelerates fibrosis, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107:4329-4334

Nizet V, and Johnson RS. (2009), Interdependence of hypoxic and innate immune responses, Nature Reviews Immunology, 9:609-617

Stockmann C, Doedens A, Weidemann A, Zhang N, Greenberg J, Cheresh D, and Johnson RS. (2008), Deletion of vascular endothelial growth factor in myeloid cells accelerates tumorigenesis, Nature, 456:814-818

Boutin A, Weidemann A, Fu Z, Mesropian L, Gradin K, Jamora C, Wiesener M, Eckardt K-U, Koch CJ, Ellies LG, Haddad G, Haase VH, Simon MC, Poellinger L, Powell FL, and Johnson RS. (2008), Epidermal sensing of oxygen is essential for systemic hypoxic response, Cell, 133:223-234

Mason S, Ameln H, Duh R, McNulty WJ, Howlett RA, Olfert IM, Sundberg CJ, Poellinger L, and Johnson RS. (2007), HIF-1α in endurance training: suppression of oxidative metabolism, American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 293:R2059-206

Peyssonnaux C, Zinkernagel AS, Schuepbach RA, Rankin E, Vaulont S, Haase VH, Nizet V, and Johnson RS. (2007), Regulation of iron homeostasis by the hypoxia inducible transcription factors (HIFs), Journal of Clinical Investigation, 117:1926-1932

Liao D, Corle C, Seagroves TN, and Johnson RS. (2007), HIF-1α is a key regulator of metastasis in a transgenic model of cancer initiation and progression, Cancer Research, 67:563-572

Teaching and Supervisions


I currently teach a Part II course entitled "The pathophysiology of cancer." 

Professor of Molecular Physiology and Pathology
Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow
Fellow of Pembroke College
Picture of Professor Randall S Johnson

Contact Details

+44 (0) 1223 765931
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