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Colleen Lau, PhD

Colleen Lau

Department of Microbiology and Immunology

Assistant Professor

Lab Website

Department of Microbiology and Immunology
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
Ithaca, NY 14853


Research Interest

Immune memory occurs when the immune system remembers previous encounters with pathogens, aberrant cells, or self-antigens to produce a more rapid or robust secondary response upon re-encounter.  It stands as the cornerstone of vaccine development and many cellular immunotherapies, and is largely believed to be an exclusive capability of conventional T and B cells.  The natural killer (NK) cell, a cytotoxic innate lymphocyte, has challenged these dogmas. Our research aims to leverage the unique ability of NK cells to acquire adaptive features in order to explore immune memory in the context of classic antigen-dependent and more unconventional antigen-independent memory responses. We combine multi-omic approaches with genetic mouse model systems to interrogate in vivo, in vitro, and in silico how different signals integrate to generate an immune memory program. Specifically, we study the following:

Common and distinct mechanisms that dictate classic immune memory responses
We have previously shown that NK cells and CD8 T cells have similar epigenetic features in response to mouse cytomegalovirus. We are exploring the role of several transcription factors and epigenetic features that may have common or distinct functionalities in these cells. 

Epigenetic mechanisms that drive antigen-independent immune memory responses
NK cells have the ability to acquire memory-like features upon seeing IL-12, IL-18, and IL-15 simultaneously. We aim to explore how these cytokines translate into epigenetic mechanisms that help rewire these NK cells to become better and more long-lived.


B.A. University of California, Berkeley
Ph.D. Columbia University

Biography/Professional Experience

Dr. Lau received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley in Molecular and Cell Biology. After working as a research technician at the Scripps Research Institute, she obtained her PhD from Columbia University, where she studied dendritic cell development and function. She did her postdoctoral work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where she studied the epigenetic regulation of natural killer cell memory during viral infection.


NIAID K22 Career Transition Award (2021)
Cancer Research Institute Irvington Postdoctoral Fellowship (2019)


Lau CM, Wiedemann GM, Sun JC. Epigenetic regulation of natural killer cell memory. Immunol Rev. 2022 Jan;305(1):90-110. doi: 10.1111/imr.13031. Epub 2021 Dec 14. Review. PubMed PMID: 34908173; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC8955591.

Wiedemann GM, Santosa EK, Grassmann S, Sheppard S, Le Luduec JB, Adams NM, Dang C, Hsu KC, Sun JC, Lau CMDeconvoluting global cytokine signaling networks in natural killer cells. Nat Immunol. 2021 May;22(5):627-638. doi: 10.1038/s41590-021-00909-1. Epub 2021 Apr 15. PubMed PMID: 33859404; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC8476180.

Lau CM, Adams NM, Geary CD, Weizman OE, Rapp M, Pritykin Y, Leslie CS, Sun JC. Epigenetic control of innate and adaptive immune memory. Nat Immunol. 2018 Sep;19(9):963-972. doi: 10.1038/s41590-018-0176-1. Epub 2018 Aug 6. PubMed PMID: 30082830; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6225771.

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