Michael V.

Michael V. Johnston, M.D.'s picture
Director of Neuroscience Laboratory, Kennedy Krieger Institute
Kennedy Krieger Institute

707 N. Broadway
Baltimore, MD 21205
United States

Dr. Michael Johnston is a research scientist and Director of Neuroscience Laboratory. Dr. Johnston is the former senior vice president and chief medical officer at Kennedy Krieger Institute. He is also a professor of neurology and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.


Dr. Johnston attended Franklin and Marshall College before going on to medical school at the University of Pittsburgh, from which he graduated cum laude in 1971. His post-doctoral training at the Johns Hopkins Hospital included work in pediatrics, neurology, pharmacology and pediatric neurology. After teaching positions and research work at the University of Michigan Medical School and University of Michigan Hospitals, Dr. Johnston returned to Baltimore in 1988. Today he is the senior vice president and chief medical officer at Kennedy Krieger Institute, as well as director of both Kennedy Krieger Institute's Division of Neurology and Developmental Medicine and the institute's neuroscience laboratory. Dr. Johnston is an attending physician at both Johns Hopkins Hospital and Kennedy Krieger Children's Hospital.


Dr. Johnston and his group, including Drs. Mary Blue, Mary Ann Wilson and Alec Hoon, perform clinical and basic laboratory research focused on developing therapies to reduce brain injury in infants and children as well as to promote recovery by enhancing brain plasticity. His laboratory was one of the first to describe the mechanisms through which the neurotransmitter glutamate triggers brain injury from lack of oxygen, trauma and other insults. If administered early enough, drugs that block the effects of glutamate on one of its receptors called the NMDA receptor can totally prevent brain injury in infants.

His group also recognized that the major role that glutamate plays in injury during development is related to the important role it plays in normal development. During development, glutamate released from nerve terminals helps to refine the synaptic connections that link neurons into circuits. These mechanisms are enhanced during development to shape circuits in response to environmental stimuli and formation of memories, a process called "neuronal plasticity." When the brain is injured, these circuits can be damaged by too much glutamate, much like a computer's chips can be damaged by a power surge during a thunderstorm.

Because injury and plasticity are two sides of the same processes in brain development, Dr. Johnston's research has grown beyond mechanisms of injury into processes that control brain plasticity. For example, he studies how the cerebral cortex is reassigned in response to injury, which is the major mechanism for recovery of function from stroke and other disorders. Even learning and long-term memory are based on these same mechanisms, since it depends on neurons exciting each other with glutamate and changes in synaptic connections. Numerous disorders associated with intellectual disabilities are caused by genetic flaws in these systems, and Dr. Johnston recently completed a project focused on a defect in a neuronal signaling process involved in a form of X-linked intellectual disability.

Dr. Johnston's initial pursuit of ways to reduce brain injury in infants and children with medications has led to a broader understanding of processes involved in plasticity and recovery from injury. The immature brain's glutamate signaling system, which is enhanced compared to the adult in order to shape its complex neuronal circuitry, proves to be its "Achilles' Heel" when it is injured. Accordingly, Dr. Johnston's research has proved to be relevant to a broad range of neurodevelopmental disabilities including cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, genetic metabolic disorders, and epilepsy as well as brain injury from lack of oxygen and trauma.

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Research Publications

Johnston MV (2018). Cognitive Development One Year After Infantile Critical Pertussis.Pediatr Crit Care Med. 19(2), 161-162.

Zhang F, Trent Magruder J, Lin YA, Crawford TC, Grimm JC, Sciortino CM, Wilson MA, Blue ME, Kannan SJohnston MV, Baumgartner WA, Kannan RM (2017). Generation-6 hydroxyl PAMAM dendrimers improve CNS penetration from intravenous administration in a large animal brain injury model. J Control Release. 249, 173-182.

Ismail FY, Fatemi AJohnston MV (2016). Cerebral plasticity: Windows of opportunity in the developing brain. Eur J Paediatr Neurol. , .

Johnston MV (2016). Evidence for a mechanism to lower glutamate levels in fetal hypoxia-ischemia caused by asphyxia. Dev Med Child Neurol. 58(1), 9-10.

Sun LR, Huisman TA, Yeshokumar AK, Johnston MV (2015). Ongoing Cerebral Vasculitis During Treatment of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Pediatr Neurol. 53(5), 434-8. 

Verina T, Fatemi AJohnston MVComi AM (2013). Pluripotent possibilities: human umbilical cord blood cell treatment after neonatal brain injury. Pediatr Neurol. 48(5), 346-54.

Marschik PB, Kaufmann WE, Sigafoos J, Wolin T, Zhang D, Bartl-Pokorny KD, Pini G, Zappella M, Tager-Flusberg H, Einspieler C, Johnston MV (2013). Changing the perspective on early development of Rett syndrome. Res Dev Disabil. 34(4), 1236-9.

Massaro AN, Jeromin A, Kadom N, Vezina G, Hayes RL, Wang KK, Streeter J, Johnston MV(2013). Serum biomarkers of MRI brain injury in neonatal hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy treated with whole-body hypothermia: a pilot study. Pediatr Crit Care Med. 14(3), 310-7.

Kim JJ, Buchbinder N, Ammanuel S, Kim R, Moore E, O'Donnell N, Lee JK, Kulikowicz E, Acharya S, Allen RH, Lee RW, Johnston MV (2013). Cost-effective therapeutic hypothermia treatment device for hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy. Med Devices (Auckl). 6, 1-10.

Hinton R, Budimirovic DB, Marschik PB, Talisa VB, Einspieler C, Gipson T, Johnston MV(2013). Parental reports on early language and motor milestones in fragile X syndrome with and without autism spectrum disorders. Dev Neurorehabil. 16(1), 58-66.

Falahati S, Breu M, Waickman AT, Phillips AW, Arauz EJ, Snyder S, Porambo M, Goeral K, Comi AMWilson MAJohnston MVFatemi A (2013). Ischemia-induced neuroinflammation is associated with disrupted development of oligodendrocyte progenitors in a model of periventricular leukomalacia. Dev Neurosci. 35(2-3), 182-96.

Kannan SJohnston MV (2012). "Hot spots" in the brain: tissue to be rescued? Crit Care Med. 40(6), 1996-7.

Gipson TT, Johnston MV (2012). Plasticity and mTOR: towards restoration of impaired synaptic plasticity in mTOR-related neurogenetic disorders. Neural Plast. 2012, 486402.

Phillips AW, Falahati S, DeSilva R, Shats I, Marx J, Arauz E, Kerr DA, Rothstein JD, Johnston MVFatemi A (2012). Derivation of glial restricted precursors from E13 mice. J Vis Exp. (64), .

Johnston MV (2012). Iron deficiency, febrile seizures and brain development. Indian Pediatr. 49(1), 13-4. 

Arnaoutakis GJ, George TJ, Wang KK, Wilson MA, Allen JG, Robinson CW, Haggerty KA, Weiss ES, Blue ME, Talbot CC Jr, Troncoso JC, Johnston MV, Baumgartner WA (2011). Serum levels of neuron-specific ubiquitin carboxyl-terminal esterase-L1 predict brain injury in a canine model of hypothermic circulatory arrest. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 142(4), 902-910.e1. 

Blue ME, Kaufmann WE, Bressler J, Eyring C, O'driscoll C, Naidu S, Johnston MV (2011). Temporal and regional alterations in NMDA receptor expression in Mecp2-null mice. Anat Rec (Hoboken). 294(10), 1624-34.

Fatemi A, Wilson MA, Phillips AW, McMahon MT, Zhang J, Smith SA, Arauz EJ, Falahati S, Gummadavelli A, Bodagala H, Mori S, Johnston MV (2011). In vivo magnetization transfer MRI shows dysmyelination in an ischemic mouse model of periventricular leukomalacia.J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 31(10), 2009-18.

Johnston MV (2011). Education of a child neurologist: developmental neuroscience relevant to child neurology. Semin Pediatr Neurol. 18(2), 133-8. 

Naidu S, Johnston MV (2011). Neurodevelopmental disorders: Clinical criteria for Rett syndrome. Nat Rev Neurol. 7(6), 312-4.

Johnston MVFatemi A, Wilson MA, Northington F (2011). Treatment advances in neonatal neuroprotection and neurointensive care. Lancet Neurol. 10(4), 372-82.

Allen JG, Weiss ES, Wilson MA, Arnaoutakis GJ, Blue ME, Talbot CC Jr, Jie C, Lange MS, Troncoso JC, Johnston MV, Baumgartner WA (2010). Hawley H. Seiler Resident Award. Transcriptional profile of brain injury in hypothermic circulatory arrest and cardiopulmonary bypass. Ann Thorac Surg. 89(6), 1965-71. 

Tseng EE, Brock MV, Lange MS, Troncoso JC, Blue ME, Lowenstein CJ, Johnston MV, Baumgartner WA (2010). Glutamate excitotoxicity mediates neuronal apoptosis after hypothermic circulatory arrest. Ann Thorac Surg. 89(2), 440-5. 

Fatemi A, Wilson MA, Johnston MV (2009). Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy in the term infant. Clin Perinatol. 36(4), 835-58, vii.

Muthugovindan D, Kossoff EH, Sakonju A, Johnston MV (2009). Aicardi syndrome mimicking intrauterine hydrocephalus. Brain Dev. 31(8), 638-40.

Hoon AH Jr, Stashinko EE, Nagae LM, Lin DD, Keller J, Bastian A, Campbell ML, Levey E, Mori S, Johnston MV (2009). Sensory and motor deficits in children with cerebral palsy born preterm correlate with diffusion tensor imaging abnormalities in thalamocortical pathways. Dev Med Child Neurol. 51(9), 697-704.

Weiss ES, Wang KK, Allen JG, Blue ME, Nwakanma LU, Liu MC, Lange MS, Berrong J, Wilson MA, Gott VL, Troncoso JC, Hayes RL, Johnston MV, Baumgartner WA (2009). Alpha II-spectrin breakdown products serve as novel markers of brain injury severity in a canine model of hypothermic circulatory arrest. Ann Thorac Surg. 88(2), 543-50.

Johnston MV (2009). Vulnerability of preterm males to adverse obstetric factors. Dev Med Child Neurol. 51(7), 496-7.

Comi AM, Trescher WH, Abi-Raad R, Johnston MV, Wilson MA (2009). Impact of age and strain on ischemic brain injury and seizures after carotid ligation in immature mice. Int J Dev Neurosci. 27(3), 271-7.

Johnston MV (2009). Plasticity in the developing brain: implications for rehabilitation. Dev Disabil Res Rev. 15(2), 94-101.

Johnston MV, Ishida A, Ishida WN, Matsushita HB, Nishimura A, Tsuji M (2009). Plasticity and injury in the developing brain. Brain Dev. 31(1), 1-10.

Johnston MV (2008). Diffusion tensor imaging of white matter and developmental outcome. Pediatrics. 122(3), 656-7.

Connors SL, Levitt P, Matthews SG, Slotkin TA, Johnston MV, Kinney HC, Johnson WG, Dailey RM, Zimmerman AW (2008). Fetal mechanisms in neurodevelopmental disorders. Pediatr Neurol. 38(3), 163-76.

Comi AM, Cho E, Mulholland JD, Hooper A, Li Q, Qu Y, Gary DS, McDonald JW, Johnston MV(2008). Neural stem cells reduce brain injury after unilateral carotid ligation. Pediatr Neurol. 38(2), 86-92.

Curran LK, Newschaffer CJ, Lee LC, Crawford SO, Johnston MV, Zimmerman AW (2007). Behaviors associated with fever in children with autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics. 120(6), e1386-92.

Jordan LC, van Beek JG, Gottesman RF, Kossoff EH, Johnston MV (2007). Ischemic stroke in children with critical illness: a poor prognostic sign. Pediatr Neurol. 36(4), 244-6.

Johnston MV, Hagberg H (2007). Sex and the pathogenesis of cerebral palsy. Dev Med Child Neurol. 49(1), 74-8.

Comi AM, Highet BH, Mehta P, Hana Chong T, Johnston MV, Wilson MA (2006). Dextromethorphan protects male but not female mice with brain ischemia. Neuroreport. 17(12), 1319-22.

Williams JA, Barreiro CJ, Nwakanma LU, Lange MS, Kratz LE, Blue ME, Berrong J, Patel ND, Gott VL, Troncoso JC, Johnston MV, Baumgartner WA (2006). Valproic acid prevents brain injury in a canine model of hypothermic circulatory arrest: a promising new approach to neuroprotection during cardiac surgery. Ann Thorac Surg. 81(6), 2235-41; discussion 2241-2. 

Barreiro CJ, Williams JA, Fitton TP, Lange MS, Blue ME, Kratz LBarker PB, Degaonkar M, Gott VL, Troncoso JC, Johnston MV, Baumgartner WA (2006). Noninvasive assessment of brain injury in a canine model of hypothermic circulatory arrest using magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Ann Thorac Surg. 81(5), 1593-8.

Johnston MV, Hoon AH Jr (2006). Cerebral palsy. Neuromolecular Med. 8(4), 435-50.

Comi AMJohnston MV, Wilson MA (2005). Immature mouse unilateral carotid ligation model of stroke. J Child Neurol. 20(12), 980-3. 

Johnston MV, Ferriero DM, Vannucci SJ, Hagberg H (2005). Models of cerebral palsy: which ones are best? J Child Neurol. 20(12), 984-7. 

Kaufmann WE, Johnston MV, Blue ME (2005). MeCP2 expression and function during brain development: implications for Rett syndrome's pathogenesis and clinical evolution.Brain Dev. 27 Suppl 1, S77-S87.

Johnston MV, Blue ME, Naidu S (2005). Rett syndrome and neuronal development. J Child Neurol. 20(9), 759-63.

Comi AMJohnston MV, Wilson MA (2005). Strain variability, injury distribution, and seizure onset in a mouse model of stroke in the immature brain. Dev Neurosci. 27(2-4), 127-33.

Johnston MV (2005). Excitotoxicity in perinatal brain injury. Brain Pathol. 15(3), 234-40.

Patra RC, Blue ME, Johnston MVBressler J, Wilson MA (2004). Activity-dependent expression of Egr1 mRNA in somatosensory cortex of developing rats. J Neurosci Res. 78(2), 235-44. 

Comi AM, Weisz CJ, Highet BH, Johnston MV, Wilson MA (2004). A new model of stroke and ischemic seizures in the immature mouse. Pediatr Neurol. 31(4), 254-7.

Tsuji M, Wilson MA, Lange MS, Johnston MV (2004). Minocycline worsens hypoxic-ischemic brain injury in a neonatal mouse model. Exp Neurol. 189(1), 58-65.

Johnston MV (2004). Clinical disorders of brain plasticity. Brain Dev. 26(2), 73-80.