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Abbie Jensen

Associate Professor

Our research goal is to identify and define the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in generating and maintaining the functional morphology of vertebrate photoreceptors. We use zebrafish as our primary model organism for this research.

Current Research

Vertebrate photoreceptors are specialized light sensing neurons. The photoreceptor outer segment is a highly modified cilium where photons of light are transduced into a chemical and electrical signal. The outer segment has the typical cilary axoneme but, in addition, it has a large number of densely packed, stacked, intramembranous discs. The molecular and cellular mechanisms that contribute to vertebrate photoreceptor outer segment morphogenesis are still largely unknown. Unlike typical cilia, the outer segment is continuously regenerated or renewed throughout the life of the animal through the combined process of distal outer segment shedding and proximal outer segment growth. The process of outer segment renewal was discovered over forty years ago, but we still lack an understanding of how photoreceptors renew their outer segments and few, if any, molecular mechanisms that regulate outer segment growth or shedding have been described. Our lack of progress in understanding how photoreceptors renew their outer segments has been hampered by the difficulty in measuring rates of renewal. We have created a new method that uses heat-shock induction of a fluorescent protein that can be used to rapidly measure outer segment growth and renewal rates. In addition we have created a rod-specific inducible transgenic system to manipulate gene expression in zebrafish. With these tools and genome editing techniques, we are uniquely positioned to begin identifying important mechanisms of rod outer segment renewal and, importantly, we will be positioned to test whether it is possible to prolong vision by maintaining outer segment length in retinal degeneration diseases by stimulating growth or suppressing shedding.

Learn more at www.bio.umass.edu/biology/jensen/

Academic Background

  • BA University of California, San Diego, 1988
  • PhD University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1992
  • Postdoctoral Training: University College London, 1992-1996, University of Oregon, 1996-2002
Campbell, L.J. West, M.C. and Jensen, A.M. (2018) A high content small molecule screen identifies candidate molecular pathways regulating rod photoreceptor outer segment renewal. Scientific Reports 8:14017.
Campbell, L.J. and Jensen, A.M. (2017) Phosphodiesterase inhibitors sildenafil and vardenafil reduce zebrafish rod photoreceptor outer segment shedding. IOVS. November 2017.
West, M.C., Campbell, L.J., Willoughby, J.J., Jensen, A.M. (2014) Two types of transgenic lines for doxycycline-inducible, cell-specific gene expression in zebrafish ultraviolet cone photoreceptors. Gene Expr Patterns. 14(2):96-104.
Campbell, L.J., Willoughby, J.J., Jensen, A.M. Two types of tet-on transgenic lines for doxycycline-inducible gene expression in zebrafish rod photoreceptors and a gateway-based tet-on toolkit. PLoS One, 2012; 7(12):e51270.
Willoughby, J.J. and Jensen, A.M. 2012. Generation of a genetically encoded marker of rod photoreceptor outer segment growth and renewal. Biology Open, 1: 30-36.
Christensen, A.K., and Jensen, A.M. 2008. Tissue-specific requirements for specific domains in the FERM protein Moe/Epb4.1l5 during early zebrafish development. BMC Developmental Biology, 11: 8:3.
Hsu, Y.C. and Jensen, A.M. 2009. Multiple domains in the Crumbs Homolog 2a (Crb2a) protein are required for regulating rod size. BioMed Central Cell Biology, 29; 11:60.
Contact Info

Department of Biology
414A Morrill III South
North Pleasant Street
Amherst, MA 01003-9292

(413) 545-4750