University of Wisconsin–Madison

Robert W. Nickells, PhD

Professor, Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences

(608) 265-6037

571a Medical Sciences Center
1300 University Ave
Madison, WI 53706

Robert W. Nickells, PhD

PhD 1987, University of Calgary
BS 1983, Univeristy of Victoria
Postdoctoral Fellowship 1987-90, California Institute of Technology

Research Interests
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness world-wide. Although an increase in intraocular pressure is often associated with this disease, it is marked by the progressive death of retinal ganglion cells. Previous studies by Dr. Nickells’ laboratory and others have shown that ganglion cell death occurs by apoptosis. Much of this work has centered around the critical function of the pro-apoptotic gene Bax. Using Bax deficient mice, the lab has demonstrated an absolute dependence of ganglion cell soma degeneration in both acute models of optic nerve injury, and in more chronic models of genetically induced ocular hypertension and glaucoma in these animals. Interestingly, axonal injury and degeneration of the retinal ganglion cells is not dependent on Bax function, and in glaucoma, axonal degeneration is able to occur in mice without concomitant soma degeneration. Dr. Nickells has now focused much of his research on molecular events preceding the Bax-dependent step of the ganglion cell apoptotic program. Very early after injury, these cells undergo silencing of normal gene expression – a process that we have linked to epigenetic modifications of the promoter regions of normally active genes.  His lab wishes to better understand this process in order to develop ways to prevent or reverse it, in order to stimulate ganglion cells to regain function after they have experienced an injury.

PubMed Listing of Publications