Johns Hopkins Neurovirologist Richard T. Johnson has died, and his obituary at Hub provides a good summary of his career. He had an important influence on my work early in my career.
The first edition of Dr. Johnson’s book, Viral Infections of the Nervous System, was published in 1982 – the year I began my laboratory at Columbia University. I was interested in studying poliovirus pathogenesis, so I immediately purchased the book (which I still have to this day – that’s a photo of it in the upper left). It served as an important resource and source of inspiration for many years, whether for writing grants, review articles, or thinking about viruses and their interaction with the central nervous system.
I always liked his sentence on page 5, under ‘Origins of Virology’: Virology as a discipline began in botany, not in medicine.
For me the most valuable chapter was ‘Pathogenesis of CNS Infections’ in which Johnson discussed how viruses move into and within that system. Many of the pages in that chapter are underlined and marked with comments (see photo below).
Years later, when I was writing Principles of Virology, many of the concepts that I learned from Dr. Johnson made their way into that book. Dr. Johnson supplied me with an electron micrograph of the blood-brain barrier for use in our textbook.
A testimony to the value of this book for me is how many questions it raised, rather than answered. It truly influenced my thinking about poliovirus pathogenesis, for which I am very grateful to Dr. Johnson.