Monica Vetter, Ph.D.

Professor and Chair of Neurobiology and Anatomy

George and Lorna Winder Professor of Neuroscience

(b. 1963); B.S. 1986, McGill University; Ph.D. 1994, University of California, San Francisco; Postdoctoral Fellow 1994-1996, University of California, San Francisco.

Office Phone: 801-581-4984


My laboratory is focused on understanding the molecular pathways controlling neural development and degeneration in the vertebrate neural retina. The retina is one of the most accessible parts of the central nervous system, and is of critical importance since disorders of eye development can lead to congenital blindness, while degeneration of retinal neurons can cause progressive blindness at later ages.

In the developing retina we are studying how eye tissues are patterned and how retinal progenitors are directed to adopt specific retina cell fates. Our goal is to define the sequence of gene expression that governs neural differentiation in the retina, and understand how extrinsic signaling pathways modulate gene expression or function. For example, we have been investigating the mechanisms by which proneural transcription factors promote retinal neuron differentiation, and how they contribute to the ordered sequence of retinal histogenesis. We find that both the expression and activity of these factors are controlled by multiple signaling pathways, as well as through epigenetic regulation. Ultimately, the goal is to reveal general principles governing the development of neural stem cells and progenitors, which may inform efforts to harness these cells for the treatment of disease and injury of the nervous system.

To investigate the process of neurodegeneration, we are probing the mechanisms underlying glaucoma, a neurodegenerative disease of the retina that is characterized by progressive loss of retinal ganglion cells leading to blindness. Using an established mouse model for glaucoma, we have documented significant involvement of the innate immune system, and found recruitment and activation of microglia at very early stages of the disease. Microglia are the resident immune surveillance cells of the CNS, and are exquisitely sensitive to neuronal stress and injury. They have been implicated in multiple neurodegenerative diseases, although their role remains controversial. We are directly testing the role of microglia in neuronal decline, and defining the signals leading to their recruitment and activation with disease progression. Our ultimate goal is to identify key molecular pathways that can be targeted to slow or prevent blindness in glaucoma.

Selected Publications

Search PubMed for Monica Vetter's Lab Publications

  • Green, Y.S. and Vetter, M.L. (2011) EBF factors drive expression of multiple classes of target genes governing neuronal development. Neural Dev. 6:19.
  • Bosco, A., Steele, M.R., Inman, D.M., Horner, P.J., Vetter, M.L., (2011) Early microglia activation in a muse model of chronic glaucoma. J. Comp. Neurol., 519(4):599-620.
  • Aldiri I. and Vetter M.L. (2009) Characterization of the expression pattern of the PRC2 core subunit Suz12 during embryonic development of Xenopus laevis. Dev Dyn. 238:3185-3192.

Agathocleous, M., Iordanova, I., Willardsen, M.I., Xue, Y., Harris, W.A., Vetter, M.L., and Moore, K.B. (2009) A directional Wnt/b-catenin-Sox2-Proneural pathway regulates the transition from proliferation to differentiation in the Xenopus retina. Development. 136:3289-3299

  • Willardsen, M.I., Suli, A., Marsh-Armstrong, N., Chien, C-B., Brown, N.L., Moore, K.B., and Vetter, M.L. (2009) Temporal regulation of Ath5 gene expression during Xenopus eye development. Dev Biol. 326:471-481.
  • Agathocleous M, Iordanova I, Willardsen MI, Xue XY, Vetter ML, Harris WA, Moore KB (2009) A directional Wnt/beta-catenin-Sox2-proneural pathway regulates the transition from proliferation to differentiation in the Xenopus retina. Development, 136:3289-3299
  • Fuhrmann S, Riesenberg AN, Mathiesen AM, Brown EC, Vetter ML, Brown NL. (2008) Characterization of a transient TCF/LEF-responsive progenitor population in the embryonic mouse retina. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci., 50:432-440.
  • Zhang J, Fuhrmann S, Vetter ML. (2008) A non-autonomous role for retinal Frizzled-5 in regulating hyaloid vitreous vasculature development. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci., 49:5561-5567.
  • Riesenberg, A.N., Le, T.T., Willardsen, M.I., Blackburn, D.C., Vetter, M.L., Brown, N.L. (2008) Pax6 regulation of Math5 during mouse retinal neurogenesis. Genesis. 47:175-187.
  • Soto, I., Oglesby, E., Buckingham, B.P., Son, J.L., Roberson, E.D., Steele, M.R., Inman, D.M., Vetter, M.L., Horner, P.J., Marsh-Armstrong, N. (2008) Retinal ganglion cells downregulate gene expression and lose their axons within the optic nerve head in a mouse glaucoma model. J. Neurosci., 28:548-61.
  • Bosco A., Inman, D.M., Steele, M.R., Wu, G.,  Soto, I., Marsh-Armstrong, N., Hubbard, W.C., Calkins, D.J., Horner, P.J., Vetter, M.L. (2008) Reduced retina microglial activation and improved optic nerve integrity with minocycline treatment in the DBA/2J mouse model of glaucoma. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 49:1437-46.
  • Buckingham, B.P., Inman, D.M., Lambert, W., Oglesby, E., Calkins, D.J., Steele, M.R., Vetter, M.L., Marsh-Armstrong, N., Horner, P.J.  (2008) Progressive ganglion cell degeneration precedes neuronal loss in an animal model of glaucoma. J. Neuroscience. 28:2735-44.
  • Burns, C.J, Zhang, J., Brown, E.C., Van Bibber, A.M., Van Es, J., Clevers, H., Ishikawa, T., Taketo, M.M., Vetter, M.L., Fuhrmann, S. (2008) Investigation of Frizzled-5 during embryonic neural development in mouse. Developmental Dynamics, 237(6):1614-1626.
  • Steele, M.R., Inman, D.M., Calkins, D.J., Horner, P.J. and Vetter M.L.  (2006) Microarray Analysis of Retinal Gene Expression in the DBA/2J Model of Glaucoma. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci, 47:977-985.
  • Hutcheson, D.A., Hanson, M.I., Moore, K.B., Le, T.T., Brown, N.B., and Vetter, M.L. (2005) bHLH-dependent and -independent modes of Ath5 gene regulation during retinal development. Development, 132:829-839.
  • Van Raay, T.J., Moore, K.B., Iordanova, I., Steele, M., Jamrich, M., Harris, W.A., and Vetter, M.L. (2005) Frizzled 5 signaling governs the neural potential of progenitors in the developing Xenopus retina. Neuron, 46:23-36.

Recent Reviews and book chapters

  • Moore, K.B. and Vetter, M.L. (2007) Retinal development (chapter). Principles of Developmental Genetics, Ed. Sally Moody. Elsevier, Inc.
  • Vetter, M.L. and Dorsky, R. Neural differentiation (chapter), Developmental Neurobiology, 4th Edition. Eds. Mahendra Rao and Marcus Jacobson. Plenum Press, 2005.
  • Vetter, M.L. and Levine E. (2004) Adult retinal stem cells. In: Adult Stem Cells (ed: Turksen, K.) Humana Press, Totowa, NJ.
  • Logan, M.A. and Vetter, M.L. (2004) Do-it-yourself tiling: dendritic growth in the absence of homotypic contacts. Neuron, 43:439-440.
  • Van Raay T.J. and Vetter M.L., (2004) Wnt/frizzled signaling during vertebrate retinal development. Dev Neurosci., 26:352-358.
  • Vetter, M.L. (2003) Methylation gets SMRT: Functional insights into Rett Syndrome. Dev. Cell. 5:359-360.
  • Hutcheson, D.A. and Vetter, M.L. (2002) Transgenic approaches to retinal development and function in Xenopus laevis. Methods, vol. 28(4), 402-410.