Debra Thompson, Ph.D.

Professor, Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences
Professor, Biological Chemistry

7313 Brehm Tower, Kellogg Eye Center
1000 Wall Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48105

(734) 936-9504

Areas of Interest

Our research focuses on studies of the molecular mechanisms responsible for inherited forms of retinal degeneration causing devastating loss of vision in affected individuals. Our efforts have contributed to the identification of disease genes whose mutations result in early and severe forms of retinal degeneration. Normally these genes are expressed in the retina and retinal pigment epithelium, and encode proteins necessary for the function and survival of the light absorbing rod and cone photoreceptor cells. Disease-associated mutations disrupt cellular processes including the metabolism of vitamin A needed to produce the light-absorbing chromophore 11-cis retinal, the phagocytic uptake of membrane debris from the subretinal space, and the structure and lipid composition of the photoreceptor cells. Our ongoing research focuses on analysis of the normal function and pathogenic mechanisms associated with these genetic defects, in studies involving biochemical assays of protein function and enzyme activity in vitro, and phenotypic characterization of mouse and rat models corresponding to human forms of disease. We are using this information to develop novel strategies for therapeutic intervention that we are testing in preclinical trials.

Honors & Awards

John A. Boeze Memorial Alumnus Award in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Michigan State University, 2020
Elizabeth Anderson Award for Macular Degeneration Research, BrightFocus Foundation, 2014
Fellow, Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, 2010
Senior Scientific Investigator Award, Research to Prevent Blindness, 2009
Senior Scientific Investigator Award, Research to Prevent Blindness, 2008
Elizabeth Caroline Crosby Research Award, NSF ADVANCE Project, 2005
Lew R. Wasserman Merit Award, Research to Prevent Blindness, 1999
Rackham Partnership Program Award, Sponsor, University of Michigan, 1995
Career Development Fund for Women Faculty Award, University of Michigan, 1995

Published Articles or Reviews

Recent Publications

Gene Supplementation in Mice Heterozygous for the D477G-RPE65 Variant Implicated in Autosomal Dominant Retinitis Pigmentosa.
Feathers KL, Jia L, Khan NW, Smith A, Ma JX, Ali RR, Thompson DA.
Hum Gene Ther. 2023; 34: 639–48.

Oxidative stress differentially impacts apical and basolateral secretion of angiogenic factors from human iPSC-derived retinal pigment epithelium cells.
Chen L, Perera ND, Karoukis AJ, Feathers KL, Ali RR, Thompson DA, Fahim AT.
Sci Rep. 2022; 12: 12694.

Pharmacologic activation of autophagy without direct mTOR inhibition as a therapeutic strategy for treating dry macular degeneration.
Zhang Q, Presswalla F, Ali RR, Zacks DN, Thompson DA, Miller JML.
Aging. 2021; 13: 10866–90.

Relative Contributions of All-Trans and 11-Cis Retinal to Formation of Lipofuscin and A2E Accumulating in Mouse Retinal Pigment Epithelium.
Boyer NP, Thompson DA, Koutalos Y.
Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2021; 62: 1.

Shifting the balance of autophagy and proteasome activation reduces proteotoxic cell death: a novel therapeutic approach for restoring photoreceptor homeostasis.
Qiu Y, Yao J, Jia L, Thompson DA, Zacks DN.
Cell Death Dis. 2019; 10: 547.

For a list of publications from MyNCBI, click HERE