Photo of Kathy MagnussonPrincipal Investigator, Linus Pauling Institute 
Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine

Office: 357 Linus Pauling Science Center
Telephone: 541-737-6923
Fax: 541-737-5077
Email Address:

Mailing/Express Delivery Address:
Kathy Magnusson, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Linus Pauling Institute
Oregon State University
307 Linus Pauling Science Center
Corvallis, OR 97331

Research Interests

I am an aging neuroscientist, interested in how we can prevent or repair the declines that occur during aging in learning and memory ability. I am hoping to figure this out before I forget what the question is.

We have been characterizing changes in the expression of a receptor that is very important for the formation of memories, the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor. This receptor uses glutamate as a transmitter. The NMDA receptor shows greater declines in binding of glutamate with increased age than any of the other glutamate receptors. We've found relationships between NMDA receptor binding and expressions of two NMDA receptor subunits, GluN2B (epsilon2, NR2B) and GluN2A (epsilon1, NR2A), during aging. We have also shown associations between age-related changes in NMDA binding densities and subunit expressions and declines in both short- and long-term memory.

We are continuing to characterize the changes that occur in the NMDA receptor with increasing age. We are currently examining whether increasing the expression of the GluN2B subunit or some of the splice variants of the GluN1 subunit is beneficial to memory in aged animals, how aging affects where the NMDA receptors are located within the neurons, whether inflammation plays a role in the effects of aging on NMDA receptors and whether interventions to enhance Vitamin D or reduce fatty acids will alter the effects of aging on NMDA receptors and memory. We are also trying to determine exactly what role NMDA receptors in the prefrontal cortex play in different forms of memory. Ultimately we want to discover the mechanisms underlying the age-related changes in the NMDA receptor.

In order to enhance the translation of our work, we have recently developed, in collaboration with Jimmy Zhong and Dr. Scott Moffat, Georgia Institute of Technology, a virtual water maze for testing human subjects. This task is designed to be similar to the water maze task that we use to assess memory in mice. We believe that this will enhance our ability to transition from screening interventions in mice to testing them in humans, by using the same task.

The lab's main goal is to find interventions into aging that will help to maintain the quality of life into old age. We're also interested in helping to better understand the function of the NMDA receptor in different brain regions.

Recently, we have also begun to examine the role of that the gut microbiota and high energy diets play in cognitive abilities. We have found that animals fed a high sucrose diet show deficits in early learning and those fed either a high fat or high sucrose diet have trouble with cognitive flexibility. Certain alterations in the composition of the gut microbiota showed relationships to these cognitive problems. We are pursuing evidence of whether these deficits are due to diet alone or the microbiota.


1990 Post-Doc, Psychobiology, University of California, Irvine, CA
1989 Ph.D., Vet. Anatomy/Neuroscience, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN
1982 D.V.M., University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN
1980 B.S., University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN

Professional Experience

2012-present Principal Investigator, Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University
2007-present Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Oregon State University
2005-2007 Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Oregon State University
2002-2005 Affiliate Faculty, Department of Biological Structure, School of Medicine, University of Washington
2002-2005 Associate Professor, WWAMI Medical Education Program, University of Idaho
2002-2005 Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, College of Science, University of Idaho
1999 Visiting Scientist, Young & Penney Laboratory, Neurology Research, Massachusetts General Hospital
1995-2002 Associate Professor, Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University
1990 Visiting Assistant Researcher, Cotman Laboratory, Department of Psychobiology, University of California-Irvine
1989-1995 Assistant Professor, Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University
1986-1989 Research Fellow, Department of Veterinary Biology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota
1984-1986 Veterinary Medical Associate / Teaching Assistant, Department of Veterinary Biology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota
1982-1984 Veterinarian, Nordic Veterinary Service, Hoffman, Minnesota
1978-1982 Lab Technician, Mastitis Laboratory, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota

Awards and Honors

2014-2017 NIH OppNet Short-term Career Development Award, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health
2010 National Pfizer Distinguished Teacher Award
2008 Pfizer Award for Research Excellence
2004-2008 Member of National Institutes of Health's Learning and Memory study section
1995-2000 NIH Research Career Development Award, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health
1992-97 NIH FIRST Award, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health
1992-93 American Federation for Aging Research - Research Grant
1988 Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society, University of Minnesota
1987 Gamma Sigma Delta, Agricultural Honor Society, University of Minnesota
1986-91 NIH Physician Scientist Award, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health
1986 Finalist, Jan Langman Award for Outstanding Student Presentation, AAA
1986 Louise Dosdall Fellowship for Women in Sciences, University of Minnesota Graduate School (declined because of NIH grant)
1982 Phi Zeta, Veterinary Honor Society, University of Minnesota
1976 Freshman Women's Honor Society, Utah State University

Professional Activities and Memberships

Member Society for Neuroscience
Member Gerontological Society of America
Member American Aging Association
Member American Association of Veterinary Anatomists, World Association of Veterinary Anatomists
2004-2008 Member of NIH Learning and Memory Study Section

Recent Publications

Marquez-Loza AM, Elias V, Wong CP, Ho E, Bermudez M, Magnusson KR. (2017) Effects of ibuprofen on cognition and NMDA receptor subunit expression across aging. Neuroscience 344:276-292.

McDougall M, Choi J, Magnusson KR, Truong L, Tanguay R, Traber MG. (2017) Chronic vitamin E deficiency impairs cognitive function in adult zebrafish via dysregulation of brain metabolism due to redox-mediated mechanisms. Free Rad Biol Med 112:308-317.

Zhong JY, Magnusson KR, Swarts ME, Clendinen CA, Reynolds NC, Moffat SD. (2017) The application of a rodent-based Morris water maze (MWM) protocol to an investigation of age-related differences in human spatial learning. Behav Neurosci (in press).

Zamzow D, Elias V, Acosta V, Escobedo E, Magnusson KR. (2016) Higher levels of phosphorylated Y1472 on GluN2B subunits in the frontal cortex of aged mice are associated with good spatial reference memory, but not cognitive flexibility. Age 38:50. 

Magnusson KR, Hauck L, Jeffrey BM, Elias V, Humphrey A, Nath R, Perrone A, Bermudez LE. (2015) Relationships between diet-related changes in the gut microbiome and cognitive flexibility. Neuroscience 300:128-140. 

Magnusson KR, Brim BL. (2015) The Aging Brain, Reference module in Biomedical Sciences, Michael Caplan (Editor-in-Chief), D.J. Holmes (Section Editor), Elsevier, Inc. 18-Oct-2014.

Zamzow DR, Elias V, Legette LL, Choi J, Stevens, JF, Magnusson KR. (2014) Xanthohumol improved cognitive flexibility in young mice. Behav Brain Res 275:1-10.

Zamzow DR, Elias V, Shumaker M, Larson C, Magnusson KR. (2013) An increase in the association of GluN2B containing NMDA receptors with membrane scaffolding proteins was related to memory declines during aging. J Neurosci 33:12300-12305.

Wong CP, Ho E, Magnusson, KR. (2013) Increased inflammatory response with age is associated with age-related zinc deficiency and zinc transporter dysregulation. J Nutr Biochem 24:353-359.

Brim BL, Haskell R, Awedikian R, Ellinwood NM, Jin L, Kumar A, Foster TC, Magnusson KR. (2013) Memory in aged mice is rescued by enhanced expression of the GluN2B subunit of the NMDA receptor. Behav Brain Res 238:211-226.

Magnusson KR. (2012) Aging of the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor - from a mouse's point of view. Future Neurol 7:627-637.

Das SR, Jensen R, Kelsay R, Shumaker M, Bochart R, Brim B, Zamzow D, Magnusson KR. (2012) Reducing expression of GluN1(0XX) subunit splice variants of the NMDA receptor interferes with spatial reference memory. Behav Brain Res 230:317-324.

Das SR, Magnusson KR. (2011) Changes in expression of splice cassettes of NMDA receptor GluN1 subunits within the frontal lobe and memory in mice during aging. Behav Brain Res 222:122-133.

Magnusson KR, Das SR, Kronemann D, Bartke A, Patrylo PR. (2011) The effects of aging and genotype on NMDA receptor expression in growth hormone receptor knockout (GHRKO) mice. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 66:607-619.

Wong CP, Magnusson KR, Ho E. (2010) Aging is associated with altered dendritic cells subset distribution and impaired proinflammatory cytokine production. Exp Gerontol 45:163-169.

Magnusson KR, Brim BL, Das SR. (2010) Selective vulnerabilities of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors during brain aging. Front Aging Neurosci 2:11.

Wong CP, Song Y, Elias VD, Magnusson KR, Ho E. (2009) Zinc supplementation increases zinc status and thymopoiesis in aged mice. J Nutr 139:1393-1397.