More Sensitive Methods for Studying the Onset of Glaucoma

Benjamin Sivyer, PhD
Oregon Health and Science University (Portland, OR)


John Morrison, MD
Oregon Health and Science University (Portland, OR)
Henrique von Gersdorff, PhD
Oregon Health and Science University (Portland, OR)
Year Awarded:
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July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2020
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US Northwestern

Recipient of the Dr. Douglas H. Johnson Award for Glaucoma Research

Axo-somatic and Dendritic Plasticity in Glaucoma


Glaucoma is a disease that causes the death of retinal cells that communicate with the brain. We have little knowledge of how this gradual process of cell death is influenced by other cells in the retina, and gaining insight into these mechanisms will allow us to develop new ways to treat glaucoma.


The goal of our research is to understand how glaucoma leads to adaptive changes in the retinal neurons that connect the eye with the brain, retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). In most cases of glaucoma, injury to RGCs occurs to their axons as they pass out of the eye. This optic nerve injury results in a progressive degeneration of RGCs, leading to blindness. Because glaucoma often goes undetected before a substantial number of RGCs have died, it is important to understand the early cellular events following injury. We aim to identify early changes in response to injury in an animal model of glaucoma.

Our first goal is to identify specific subsets of RGCs that will allow us to monitor the small electrical signatures of synaptic communication between retinal cells. Subsequently, we will monitor these electrical signals in the first week following injury to determine how retinal wiring and RGC function changes.

This proposal is unique in its approach to using patch-clamp electrophysiology and calcium imaging to understand the changes that occur in the fine dendritic process of RGCs, as well as the axon and cell body. We hope our research will lead to earlier diagnostic detection of glaucoma but more importantly, we aim to uncover retinal mechanisms that will allow us to slow or stop the progression of RGC degeneration following injury.

About the Researcher

Benjamin Sivyer, PhD, began his research career in his native Australia, where he studied the anatomy and physiology of retinal ganglion cells. Following postdoctoral positions in Australia and the United States, he established his own laboratory at the Casey Eye Institute where he now studies the degeneration of retinal ganglion cells. Dr. Sivyer has broad interests in neurophysiology and circuit function in the brain, and is particularly interested in specific cell types in the retina. He is now applying this skillset towards understanding the mechanisms of neurodegeneration in glaucoma models. 

Personal Story

Since my undergraduate major in neuroscience, I have been fascinated by the seemingly endless complexity of the brain, and wondered how neural circuits are wired together to underlie complex behaviors. I began my research career studying the retina, which is arguably the most approachable and most studied part of the brain. Over the last 20 years, the advent of new techniques in neuroscience has rapidly expanded our knowledge of retinal circuit function. This is good news for glaucoma research, as we can now apply this knowledge and these toolsets to understanding the complex nature of the disease. I am grateful to the BrightFocus donors for supporting our research in the early stages of development. 

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