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Maureen Stabio, Ph.D.

Associate Professor
Vice Director, Modern Human Anatomy Program

Maureen Stabio Anschutz Modern Human Anatomy
 Ph.D., Anatomy and Neurobiology, Boston University School of Medicine, 2007
 CU Plastinated Organ Library

Graduate Program Affiliations:

Stabio Lab -- Figure 1

An M4 subtype of intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cell (green) sits in a sea of starbust amacrine cells (red) in the mouse retina. The M4 cell was dialyzed with lucifer yellow during patch clamp recording and the starburst amacrine cells were immunostained for Choline Acetyltransferase. Scale bar = 50 microns

My research interest and expertise is in the structure and function of the retina. My particular focus is on retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), which serve as conduits of light information from the retina to the brain. There are up to 20 different types of RGCs that carry different types of information, such as color, form, motion or contrast, and project to different brain regions to drive different behaviors. One of the major goals of visual neuroscience is to define the diversity of RGC subtypes and to map their complex circuitry. One recently-discovered RGC subtype is unique from all others in that it contains its own photopigment (melanopsin) and can send light signals to the brain independent of rod and cones.

These intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (or ipRGCs) are important for subconscious or reflexive visual behaviors such as circadian photoentrainment and the pupillary light reflex. IpRGCs have fascinated the vision science community since their discovery a little over a decade ago, and five morphologically and physiologically distinct subtypes of ipRGCs (named in order of their discovery as M1-M5) have been discovered since. During my post-doctoral training in the Berson Lab at Brown University, I characterized the form and function of the M4 and M5 subtypes of ipRGCs in the mouse retina and discovered that, unlike previously characterized ipRGCs, M4 and M5 cells have features implicating them in mechanisms of pattern vision.

My current research translates my expertise in retinal structure and function to study retinal disease. Interestingly, different retinal cell types die in specific sequences in many eye diseases. For example, in some diseases, ipRGCs have been found to be resistant to cell death while other RGCs progressively degenerate. Understanding the diversity of RGC types is important for developing therapies for vision restoration that involve genetic modification or electrical stimulation of RGCs. I am currently working in collaboration with the Lefcort lab at Montana State University to investigate the RGC types (and other retinal cell types) that degenerate in mouse models of Familial Dysautonomia (FD). FD is a devastating disease of the sensory and autonomic nervous system that causes multiple neuropathies in patients; one of the most debilitating is progressive visual loss that leads to complete blindness. Our long-term goal is to cure and prevent blindness in FD patients through a gene therapy approach. The first step towards this goal (experiments which we are currently conducting in my laboratory) is to determine the retinal cell types that degenerate in mouse models of FD.

Educational Scholarship

In addition to my research in the laboratory, I am also an experienced teacher and have been trained in pedagogy and educational research through teaching certificate programs at Boston University School of Medicine and Brown University. I am most interested in designing 3D computer graphic models based on magnetic resonance imaging datasets of the human brain. My goal is to students visualize and understand 3D relationships of internal brain structures based on clinical images that are shown in 2D slices. A pilot demo I developed with a talented, former medical student mentees, Zachary Drapkin, is illustrated here: I conduct research on the effectiveness of these dynamic teaching tools compared to other static computer-based educational tools. My goal is to help students overcome their “neurophobia” (or fear of neuroanatomy) and to be able to solve clinical problems by having a thorough understanding of the 3D spatial relationships and pathways of the brain, brainstem and spinal cord.

Stabio -- Figure 2