Pennesi Lab

Dr. Mark Pennesi
Mark Pennesi, M.D., PhD

As a clinician scientist, I spend part of my time seeing patients in clinic and the remainder working in the lab.  Like my clinical practice, the focus of my lab is to study and understand inherited retinal degenerations, such as Retinitis Pigmentosa, and to develop new treatments for these diseases.  My lab employs a diverse set of tools including molecular biology, cell culture, electrophysiology, and optical imaging.

Current Projects

Modulation of Serotonin Receptors in the Retina to Upregulate Neurotrophic factors

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are FDA approved drugs for treating depression and anxiety.  Recent evidence has shown that SSRI mediate their effect by increasing specific neurotrophic factors in the brain.  One of these, brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), has been shown to delay retinal degeneration when delivered to animal models of retinal degeneration.  Since, the retina is part of the central nervous system, we hypothesize that SSRIs might be able to upregulate BDNF in the retina.

To explore the potential of SSRIs in delaying retinal degeneration, we are characterizing the presence of these receptors in the retina and retinal pigment epithelium as well as the ability of different drugs to modulate these receptors to change BDNF expression.

Characterization of Rodent Models of Retinal Disease using Optical Coherence Tomography

Spectral Domain Optical Coherence Tomography (SD-OCT) is a noninvasive imaging system that provides high-resolution images of the retina in cross section.  SD-OCT has revolutionized how patients are treated in clinic.  We are using a specialized SD-OCT device that has been modified to image rodent eyes.  This allows us to obtain high-resolution images from different models of retinal degeneration and monitor them over time.  Such measurements will be critical in evaluating the efficacy of further treatments.

 Linear Horizontal montage

SD-OCT image demonstrating normal retinal architecture in a wild type mouse.