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Photo of Gina Pighetti 


Dr. Gina M. Pighetti

Associate Professor





ANSC 482 - Dairy Management 

ANSC 493 - Independent Study

ANSC 499 - Undergraduate Research 

ANSC 500 - Thesis 

ANSC 650 - Animal Immune Physiology 



2506 River Drive
240 Brehm Animal Science Building
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996
Phone: (865) 974-7225
Fax: (865) 974-7297
email: pighetti@utk.edu

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Ph.D.,Pennsylvania State University, Pathobiology, 1998

M.S., Pennsylvania State University, Pathobiology, 1994

B.S., Pennsylvania State University, Dairy Production, Business Minor, 1991


Appointment: 75% Research | 25% Teaching

Professional Interest: Immunology/Mammary physiology/Dairy cattle

Dr. Pighetti’s research aims to improve dairy cow health, productivity, and milk safety by providing solutions for controlling mastitis – an inflammation of the mammary gland commonly caused by infection. Her research primarily focuses on identifying genetic markers that can be used not only for selection, but also determining the functional mechanisms that contribute to greater susceptibility. With this knowledge, we can determine critical control points that can be targeted for new strategies against mastitis. She also collaborates with other members of the department to develop new candidates for vaccines against mastitis, as well as minimize the impacts of stress on immunity and disease resistance.

Photo collage of Dr. Gina PighettiImmunology plays a critical role our daily lives – preventing & eliminating infections, minimizing reactions to our own body, and monitoring for cancer. As a whole, immunology is a complex system which is intertwined with most, if not all, basic physiological processes. Disruption of the immune system can lead to a wide variety of problems – increased susceptibility to infectious diseases, inflammation, obesity, diabetes, and atherosclerosis to name a few.

Most of my research centers on mastitis, an inflammation of the mammary gland commonly caused by bacteria. Mastitis occurs in both animals and humans – occurring in nearly 1 of 3 individuals. In dairy cows, this disease affects every herd across the world, negatively impacting animal health, productivity, and milk safety. Therefore, identifying a means of reducing the incidence and severity of mastitis are critical for improving dairy cow health and milk quality.

Early studies focused on identifying genetic markers for mastitis resistance/susceptibility in order to increase the speed and accuracy of selecting for healthier dairy cow populations. We were able to identify a genetic marker associated with mastitis susceptibility. Now, the big question is why? By understanding why these animals are more susceptible or resistant to infection, we can develop targets to prevent or decrease mastitis severity. We have focused our attention on two cell types – mammary epithelial cells and neutrophils. Mammary epithelial cells are the first cells to interact with invading organisms – producing cytokines and other immuneregulatory proteins. Mammary cells also call in neutrophils, white blood cell ‘first-responders’ that are programmed to seek and destroy. Through a combination of cellular, genomic, and proteomic approaches, we seek to understand the mechanistic differences in mammary epithelial cells and neutrophils that contribute to mastitis resistance or susceptibility. 

Stress can also greatly increase disease susceptibility by modulating the immune response and perhaps the invading organism – causing a potential ‘double-whammy’ which limits the immune response and activates growth/pathogenic genes in the invading organism. This interaction may explain the greater number and severity of infections which occur during summer months when cows experience chronic heat stress. Current studies in the lab also are testing this hypothesis by investigating the interaction of mammary epithelial cells, Escherichia coli, and norepinephrine. With greater understanding of these interactions, we expect to be able to develop potential targets for preventive or therapeutic intervention.

Overall, through our research, we aim to improve dairy cow health, productivity, and milk safety by providing solutions for controlling mastitis and possibly other inflammatory diseases

Selected Publications:

  • Almeida, R. A., O. Kerro Dego, M. E. Prado, S. I. Headrick, M. J. Lewis, L. J. Siebert, G. M. Pighetti, and S. P. Oliver.  2015.  Protective effect of anti-SUAM antibodies on Streptococcus uberis mastitis.  Journal of Veterinary Research, 46:133.

  • Ryman, V.E., G. M. Pighetti, J. D. Lippolis, J. C. Gandy, C. M. Applegate, and L. M. Sordillo.  2015.  Quantification of bovine oxylipids during intramammary Streptococcus uberis infection.  Prostaglandins and Other Lipid Mediators, 121 Part B: 207-217.

  • Campistol, C, HG Kattesh, JC Waller, EL Rawls, JD Arthington, TE Engle, JA Carroll, GM Pighetti, and AM Saxton. 2013. Effects of two-stage and total versus fenceline weaning on the physiology and performance of beef steers. The Professional Animal Scientist, 29:501-07.

  • Pighetti, G. M., and A. A. Elliott. 2012. Gene polymorphisms: The keys for marker assisted selection and unraveling core regulatory pathways for mastitis resistance. J Mammary Gland Biology Neoplasia, 16(4):421-432. PMID 21997401 (Invited). 

  • Pighetti, G. M., C. J. Kojima, M. Rambeaud, and L. Wojakiewicz. 2012. The bovine CXCR1 gene is highly polymorphic. Veterinary Immunology Immunopathology, 2012 Jan 15;145(1- 2):464-70. PMID 22056270.

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