Photo of Teresa Nicolson, Ph.D.

Teresa Nicolson Ph.D.

  •      (503) 494-3693
    • Professor of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery School of Medicine
    • Cell and Developmental Biology Graduate Program School of Medicine
    • Program in Molecular and Cellular Biosciences School of Medicine


After receiving her B.S. in Biochemistry at Western Washington University, Teresa Nicolson, received her Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry in 1995 from the University of California, Los Angeles studying organelle inheritance in budding yeast in William Wickner's laboratory. She then trained as a post-doctoral fellow in Christiane Nuesslein-Volhard's laboratory working with zebrafish auditory/vestibular mutants at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tuebingen, Germany. In 1999, Teresa became an independent Group Leader at the same institute. In 2003, she was appointed as an assistant professor to the Oregon Hearing Research Center with a joint appointment in the Vollum Institute. In 2014 she was promoted to professor.

Summary of current research

We study the molecular basis of hair-cell function with two major aims in mind: (i) identifying components that are critical for the development and function of mechanotransduction and synaptic transmission, and (ii) generating animal models of human deafness and vestibular dysfunction. The particular focus on mechanotransduction and synaptic transmission in auditory/vestibular hair cells is driven by our current understanding of these processes—both are not fully understood at the molecular level. Using forward genetics, our laboratory has identified more than a dozen genes in zebrafish that are required for hair-cell function. Zebrafish larvae are ideally suited for studies of auditory/vestibular function for the following reasons: (i) conserved function of deafness genes among vertebrates, (ii) optical clarity of the inner ear and physical accessibility of lateral-line hair cells, (iii) inexpensive genetic methods including CRISPR and high-efficiency transgenesis, (iv) non-invasive imaging and electrophysiology with hair cells in intact animals, and (v) behavioral analysis of phenotypes. By characterizing and pinpointing the nature of the defects in mutants, we hope to gain insight into the biology of deafness genes.

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Areas of interest

  • genetics of sensory hair-cell function
  • genetics of hearing and balance
  • hair cell mechanotransduction and synaptic transmission


  • Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles 1995

Honors and awards

  • Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (2005-2013)


  • Maeda R, Kindt KS, Mo M, Morgan CP, Erickson T, Zhao H, Clemens-Grisham R, Barr-Gillespie PG, Nicolson T. (2014) Tip-link protein protocadherin 15 interacts with transmembrane channel-like proteins TMC1 and TMC2. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 111:12907-12912.

  • Erickson T, Nicolson T. (2015) Identification of sensory hair-cell transcripts by thiouracil-tagging in zebrafish. BMC Genomics 16:842.

  • Toro C, Trapani J, Pacentine I, Maeda R, Sheets L, Mo W, Nicolson T. (2015) Dopamine modulates the activity of sensory hair cells. J. Neuroscience 35:16494-16503. [Featured Article]

  • Maeda R, Pacentine IV, Erickson T, Nicolson T. (2017) Functional analysis of the transmembrane and cytoplasmic domains of Pcdh15a in zebrafish hair cells. J. Neuroscience 37:3231-3245.

  • Erickson T, Morgan CP, Olt J, Hardy K, Busch-Nentwich E, Maeda R, Clemens-Grisham R, Krey JF, Nechiporuk A, Barr-Gillespie PG, Marcotti W, Nicolson T. (2017) Integration of Tmc1/2 into the mechanotransduction complex in zebrafish hair cells is regulated by Transmembrane O-methyltransferase (Tomt). eLife 6 pii: e28474.

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