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Courtney Kurtz, Ph.D.

Department of Biology
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Office: 245/243 Halsey Science Center
Phone: (920) 424-1076





  • Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2006-2010, Digestive Health Center, University of Virginia
  • Ph.D., 2006, Comparative Biomedical Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • B.S., 1998, Biology, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point


Dr. Kurtz is trained as a physiologist and immunologist.  She also works extensively with cell protein biology of animal systems.  The courses taught reflect these areas.

  • BIO 105 – Biological Concepts: Unity (Fall)
  • BIO 212 – Human Physiology (Fall)
  • BIO 319/519 – General Animal Physiology (Spring)
  • BIO 341 – Immunology (Fall)
  • BIO 374/574 – Cell/Immunology Laboratory (Fall)
  • BIO 730 – Advanced Human Physiology (Summer)

Research Program

My research program involves studies of the physiology and immunology of hibernators, using the 13-lined ground squirrel (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus) as a model organism. We are particularly interested in the mucosal immunology of hibernators. Mucosal immunology is a specific branch of immunology that deals with immune responses at those sites of the body exposed to the outside world and separated from it by a single layer (or at most a few layers) of epithelial cells. These sites are exposed to a plethora of “non-self” antigens, including commensal microbes, food antigens and pollen. Mucosal sites of the body include the gastrointestinal tract (the largest mucosal site), the respiratory tract and the urogenital tract. Immunity at mucosal sites is different than in the blood and systemic organs in that it mainly involves tolerant, suppressive responses rather than inflammatory ones. The leukocytes of mucosal sites must be tolerant against harmless or commensal antigens while maintaining the ability to respond to pathogens that may infect the tissue. Breakdowns of tolerance can lead to inflammatory disease in the gut and beyond.

Recently, my program branched out to look more broadly at tissue immunology, especially as it relates to metabolic disease. Inflammation plays a large role in the development of metabolic diseases, like obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Changes in diet lead to shifts in the gut microbiota. This causes subclinical inflammation in the gut, weakening the gut barrier and allowing more bacterial products into the bloodstream. These bacterial products promote inflammation and metabolic disturbance in so-called metabolic tissues (fat, liver, muscle).

We focus on the role of the immune system in the development of obesity using the squirrels during their fattening season as a model. Hibernators live off of their fat stores during their long winter hibernation. To do this, they must rapidly accumulate fat mass in the form of white adipose tissue (WAT, i.e., fat) during their active season (spring to fall). We have shown (Sonsalla et al, 2021) that the immunological changes associated with this rapid accumulation of fat mirrors that seen in human obesity. Our project aims to examine this possibility and to determine if manipulations of the gut microbiota and/or immune system can curb this fat accumulation. We collaborate with another hibernation biologist and microbiologist in Alaska (Dr. Khrystyne Duddleston) in order to examine the microbiota of these animals as well. We examine the body mass, caloric intake and immune state of adipose tissue and other metabolic tissues (liver, muscle, etc.) throughout the fattening season.

Recent Publications

  • Grond, K., C.C. Kurtz, J. Hatton, M.M. Sonsalla*, K.N. Duddleston. 2021. Gut microbiome is affected by gut region but robust to host physiological changes in captive active-season ground squirrels. Animal Microbiome 3:56.
  • Sonsalla,M.M.*, S.L. Love*, L.J. Hoh*, L.N. Summers*, H.M. Follett*, A. Bojang*, K.N. Duddleston, C.C. Kurtz. 2021. Development of metabolic inflammation during pre-hibernation fattening in 13-lined ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus). J. Comp. Physiol. B. 191:941-953.
  • Kurtz, C.C., J.P. Otis, M.D. Reagan, H.V. Carey. 2021. How the Gut and Liver Hibernate. Comp Biochem Physiol A, 253:110865.
  • Kurtz, C.C., S.A. Mitchell*, K. Nielsen*, K.D. Crawford, S.R. Mueller-Spitz. 2020. Acute High Dose Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticle Exposure Alters Gastrointestinal Homeostasis in Mice. Appl. Toxicol. 40:1384-1395.
  • Sprenger R, S*. Tanumihardjo, C. Kurtz. 2018. Developing a model of vitamin A deficiency in a hibernating mammal, the 13-lined ground squirrel (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus). Med. 68:196-203.
  • Dill-McFarland, K., K. Neil, A. Zeng, R. Sprenger*, C. Kurtz, G. Suen, H. Carey. 2014. Hibernation alters the diversity and composition of mucosa-associated bacteria while enhancing antimicrobial defence in the gut of 13-lined ground squirrels. Ecol. 23:4658-4669.
  • Bohr, M.*, A.R. Brooks*, C.C. Kurtz. 2014. Hibernation induces immune changes in the lung of 13-lined ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus). Devel Comp Immunol 47:178-184.

*UWO Student Authors