Carrie A. Cowardin


Primary Appointment

Assistant Professor, Pediatrics


  • BS, Biology, University of Virginia
  • PhD, Microbiology, University of Virginia
  • Postdoc, Microbiology, Washington University in St. Louis

Research Disciplines

Immunology, Infectious Diseases/Biodefense, Microbiology

Research Interests

The maternal and infant microbiome in childhood growth and immunity

Research Description

The Cowardin laboratory, located within the Child Health Research Center at the University of Virginia, focuses on understanding how the gut microbiota during pregnancy and early postnatal life set the stage for lifelong immune responses. Undernutrition and linear growth stunting in a child's first 1,000 days perturb metabolic and immune programming, with lifelong implications for health and productivity. This syndrome is multifactorial and intergenerational; mothers who experience growth stunting are more likely to give birth to stunted children. The gut microbiota plays a pivotal role in shaping the development of both intestinal and systemic immune responses, and stunted children are known to have altered microbial communities and mucosal immunity. Our laboratory has developed a model of intergenerational growth stunting using human intestinal microbiota. We found that microbiota from severely stunted infants transmits defects in growth and immunity to offspring of recipient animals relative to microbiota from healthy infants. Our current research builds off of this work, utilizing this model to study immune recognition of the microbiota, determine critical time points in development that rely on microbial signals, and identify potential alterations in the maternal and offspring immune response that mediate these differences.

Personal Statement

Dr. Cowardin received both her B.S. (2010) and Ph.D. (2015, Petri lab) from UVA before completing postdoctoral research with Dr. Jeffrey Gordon at Washington University in Saint Louis. Returning to UVA in July 2020 makes Dr. Cowardin a proud triple Hoo. She has been fascinated by the complex immune and bacterial environment of the gut since her days of undergraduate research, and is motivated to apply lessons learned from this work to understanding, preventing and treating childhood undernutrition.

Selected Publications


Serrano Matos, Y. A., Cano, J., Shafiq, H., Williams, C., Sunny, J., & Cowardin, C. A. (2023). Colonization during a key developmental window reveals microbiota-dependent shifts in growth and immunity during undernutrition.. bioRxiv. doi:10.1101/2023.07.07.547849


Cowardin, C. A., Syed, S., Iqbal, N., Jamil, Z., Sadiq, K., Iqbal, J., . . . Moore, S. R. (2023). Environmental enteric dysfunction: gut and microbiota adaptation in pregnancy and infancy. NATURE REVIEWS GASTROENTEROLOGY & HEPATOLOGY, 20(4), 223-237. doi:10.1038/s41575-022-00714-7

Barratt, M. J., Nuzhat, S., Ahsan, K., Frese, S. A., Arzamasov, A. A., Sarker, S. A., . . . Gordon, J. I. (2022). Bifidobacterium infantis treatment promotes weight gain in Bangladeshi infants with severe acute malnutrition. SCIENCE TRANSLATIONAL MEDICINE, 14(640). doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.abk1107


Gehrig, J. L., Venkatesh, S., Chang, H. -W., Hibberd, M. C., Kung, V. L., Cheng, J., . . . Gordon, J. I. (2019). Effects of microbiota-directed foods in gnotobiotic animals and undernourished children. SCIENCE, 365(6449), 139-+. doi:10.1126/science.aau4732

Frisbee, A. L., Saleh, M. M., Young, M. K., Leslie, J. L., Simpson, M. E., Abhyankar, M. M., . . . Petri, W. A. J. (2019). IL-33 drives group 2 innate lymphoid cell-mediated protection during Clostridium difficile infection. NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, 10. doi:10.1038/s41467-019-10733-9

Cowardin, C. A., Ahern, P. P., Kung, V. L., Hibberd, M. C., Cheng, J., Guruge, J. L., . . . Gordon, J. I. (2019). Mechanisms by which sialylated milk oligosaccharides impact bone biology in a gnotobiotic mouse model of infant undernutrition. PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 116(24), 11988-11996. doi:10.1073/pnas.1821770116

Saleh, M. M., Frisbee, A. L., Leslie, J. L., Buonomo, E. L., Cowardin, C. A., Ma, J. Z., . . . Petri, W. A. J. (2019). Colitis-Induced Th17 Cells Increase the Risk for Severe Subsequent Clostridium difficile Infection. CELL HOST & MICROBE, 25(5), 756-+. doi:10.1016/j.chom.2019.03.003


Noor, Z., Watanabe, K., Abhyankar, M. M., Burgess, S. L., Buonomo, E. L., Cowardin, C. A., & Petri, W. A. J. (2017). Role of Eosinophils and Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha in Interleukin-25-Mediated Protection from Amebic Colitis. MBIO, 8(1). doi:10.1128/mBio.02329-16


Burgess, S. L., Saleh, M., Cowardin, C. A., Buonomo, E., Noor, Z., Watanabe, K., . . . Petri, W. A. J. (2016). Role of Serum Amyloid A, Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor, and Bone Marrow Granulocyte-Monocyte Precursor Expansion in Segmented Filamentous Bacterium-Mediated Protection from Entamoeba histolytica. INFECTION AND IMMUNITY, 84(10), 2824-2832. doi:10.1128/IAI.00316-16

Cowardin, C. A., Jackman, B. M., Noor, Z., Burgess, S. L., Feig, A. L., & Petri, W. A. J. (2016). Glucosylation Drives the Innate Inflammatory Response to Clostridium difficile Toxin A. INFECTION AND IMMUNITY, 84(8), 2317-2323. doi:10.1128/IAI.00327-16

Cowardin, C. A., Buonomo, E. L., Saleh, M. M., Wilson, M. G., Burgess, S. L., Kuehne, S. A., . . . Petri, W. A. J. (2016). The binary toxin CDT enhances Clostridium difficile virulence by suppressing protective colonic eosinophilia. NATURE MICROBIOLOGY, 1(8). doi:10.1038/NMICROBIOL.2016.108

Bartelt, L. A., Bolick, D. T., Kolling, G. L., Roche, J. K., Zaenker, E. I., Lara, A. M., . . . Guerrant, R. L. (2016). Cryptosporidium Priming Is More Effective than Vaccine for Protection against Cryptosporidiosis in a Murine Protein Malnutrition Model. PLOS NEGLECTED TROPICAL DISEASES, 10(7). doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0004820

Buonomo, E. L., Cowardin, C. A., Wilson, M. G., Saleh, M. M., Pramoonjago, P., & Petri, W. A. J. (2016). Microbiota-Regulated IL-25 Increases Eosinophil Number to Provide Protection during Clostridium difficile Infection. CELL REPORTS, 16(2), 432-443. doi:10.1016/j.celrep.2016.06.007


Cowardin, C. A., Kuehne, S. A., Buonomo, E. L., Marie, C. S., Minton, N. P., & Petri, W. A. J. (2015). Inflammasome Activation Contributes to Interleukin-23 Production in Response to Clostridium difficile. MBIO, 6(1). doi:10.1128/mBio.02386-14


Burgess, S. L., Buonomo, E., Carey, M., Cowardin, C., Naylor, C., Noor, Z., . . . Petri, W. A. J. (2014). Bone Marrow Dendritic Cells from Mice with an Altered Microbiota Provide Interleukin 17A-Dependent Protection against Entamoeba histolytica Colitis. MBIO, 5(6). doi:10.1128/mBio.01817-14

Cowardin, C. A., & Petri, W. A. J. (2014). Host recognition of Clostridium difficile and the innate immune response. ANAEROBE, 30, 205-209. doi:10.1016/j.anaerobe.2014.08.014