A photo of Joseph Qualls.

Joseph E. Qualls, PhD

  • Associate Professor, UC Department of Pediatrics



My interest in immunometabolism research began as I finished my graduate studies on the immunology of inflammatory bowel diseases. I observed that macrophages in the large intestine expressed two enzymes that metabolized the amino acid L-arginine in distinct directions. This finding seemed paradoxical, leading to polarized macrophage functions including 1) host defense and inflammation, and 2) wound repair and inflammation resolution.

I was intrigued that the availability of this small molecule had the potential to regulate immune function. I decided to further my understanding of L-arginine in my postdoctoral fellowship, where I helped define how the metabolism of this amino acid was regulated and its impact on tumor immunology and host defense responses, especially in the context of mycobacterial infections.

As I continue this research in my laboratory, I plan to:

  • Explore how L-arginine uptake, synthesis, and utilization, orchestrate immune function when challenged with Mycobacterium tuberculosis and other intracellular bacteria
  • Analyze how intracellular and intercellular amino acid metabolism regulates immunology and host defense responses involving macrophages, dendritic cells, and T cells
  • Examine other central metabolic pathways, including the contribution of lactate metabolism – a key process during aerobic glycolysis – on macrophage function and host defense responses

Our long-term research objective is to define the interplay between metabolism and immune responses, specifically those relevant to anti-pathogen immunity. We envision a better understanding of immunometabolism may uncover novel therapeutic strategies to assist in fighting disease.

My career at Cincinnati Children’s began in 2012, and I have well over a decade of research experience. I was honored to work with wonderful mentors, including Dr. Donald A. Cohen, PhD, during my graduate training at the University of Kentucky, and Dr. Peter J. Murray, PhD, as a postdoctoral fellow at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

I previously held a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) during my postdoctoral training, and I have been extramurally funded to pursue our independent research objectives since 2015. As a trainee, I served as vice-chair of mentoring activities for the Postdoctoral Association Council and was a member of the Education Programs Committee. In addition to my current research endeavors, I teach within various immunology and microbiology courses across campus. I am a training faculty member within the Immunology Graduate Program, and I currently serve on internal grant study sections and as an ad hoc reviewer for numerous journals. Outside of the hospital, I serve as the Diversity Coordinator and Executive Council Member for the annual Autumn Immunology Conference.


Restraint of Fumarate Accrual by HIF-1α Preserves miR-27a-Mediated Limitation of Interleukin 10 during Infection of Macrophages by Histoplasma capsulatum. Evans, HM; Schultz, DF; Boiman, AJ; McKell, MC; Qualls, JE; Deepe, GS. mBio. 2021; 12.

Commensal segmented filamentous bacteria-derived retinoic acid primes host defense to intestinal infection. Woo, V; Eshleman, EM; Hashimoto-Hill, S; Whitt, J; Wu, SE; Engleman, L; Rice, T; Karns, R; Qualls, JE; Haslam, DB; et al. Cell Host and Microbe. 2021; 29:1744-1756.e5.

Promotion of Anti-Tuberculosis Macrophage Activity by L-Arginine in the Absence of Nitric Oxide. McKell, MC; Crowther, RR; Schmidt, SM; Robillard, MC; Cantrell, R; Lehn, MA; Janssen, EM; Qualls, JE. Frontiers in Immunology. 2021; 12.

Metabolic Regulation of Immune Responses to Mycobacterium tuberculosis: A Spotlight on L-Arginine and L-Tryptophan Metabolism. Crowther, RR; Qualls, JE. Frontiers in Immunology. 2021; 11.

Mycobacterium bovis Bacille-Calmette-Guérin Infection Aggravates Atherosclerosis. Huaman, MA; Qualls, JE; Jose, S; Schmidt, SM; Moussa, A; Kuhel, DG; Konaniah, E; Komaravolu, RK; Fichtenbaum, CJ; Deepe, GS; et al. Frontiers in Immunology. 2020; 11.

Cell type-specific mechanisms coupling protease-activated receptor-1 to infectious colitis pathogenesis. Boucher, AA; Rosenfeldt, L; Mureb, D; Shafer, J; Sharma, BK; Lane, A; Crowther, RR; McKell, MC; Whitt, J; Alenghat, T; et al. Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis. 2020; 18:91-103.

Macrophage Function in the Pathogenesis of Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: The Mac Attack. Oates, JR; McKell, MC; Moreno-Fernandez, ME; Damen, MS M A; Deepe, GS; Qualls, JE; Divanovic, S. Frontiers in Immunology. 2019; 10.

l-Arginine Synthesis from l-Citrulline in Myeloid Cells Drives Host Defense against Mycobacteria In Vivo. Lange, SM; McKell, MC; Schmidt, SM; Zhao, J; Crowther, RR; Green, LC; Bricker, RL; Arnett, E; Kohler, SE; Schlesinger, LS; et al. Journal of Immunology. 2019; 202:1747-1754.

l-Citrulline Metabolism in Mice Augments CD4+ T Cell Proliferation and Cytokine Production In Vitro, and Accumulation in the Mycobacteria-Infected Lung. Lange, SM; McKell, MC; Schmidt, SM; Hossfeld, AP; Chaturvedi, V; Kinder, JM; McAlees, JW; Lewkowich, IP; Way, SS; Turner, J; et al. Frontiers in Immunology. 2017; 8.

CD44 variant isoform 9 emerges in response to injury and contributes to the regeneration of the gastric epithelium. Bertaux-Skeirik, N; Wunderlich, M; Teal, E; Chakrabarti, J; Biesiada, J; Mahe, M; Sundaram, N; Gabre, J; Hawkins, J; Jian, G; et al. The Journal of pathology and bacteriology. 2017; 242:463-475.