Freya Mowat

Credentials: BVSc. Ph.D

Position title: Assistant Professor


Phone: (608) 264-2668

687 Medical Sciences
1300 University Ave
Madison, WI, 53706

Mowat Lab

Focus Groups



PhD Molecular Genetics, University College London, UK
BVSc. (DVM equivalent): University of Bristol, UK

Research Summary

Outer retinal cell-specific metabolism
Mitochondrial function and morphology in aging
Retinal structure and function in response to aging and toxicant exposure

Research Detail

The retina is on a metabolic knife-edge – maintaining light sensitivity of photoreceptors (rods and cones) requires substantial and consistent energy provision. Our laboratory is interested to understand the complex metabolic interplay between photoreceptors and their supporting cells (Muller glia and retinal pigmented epithelium). Outside influences on this delicate balance, such as aging, toxicant exposure and poor diet, can lead to dysfunction and degeneration of photoreceptors, ultimately leading to blindness in diseases such as human age-related macular degeneration. The central retina (the macula) contains high concentrations of photoreceptors and is essential to human quality vision. This region is particularly susceptible to disease in humans, yet the underlying mechanisms for this susceptibility are poorly understood.

The overall goal of our research is to determine the cellular and molecular mechanisms that in disease, lead to increased susceptibility to macular photoreceptor dysfunction and degeneration. We study the effects of generalized and outer retinal cell-specific knockout of a master regulator of mitochondrial function – Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator 1-alpha (PGC-1alpha). Our current work indicates that photoreceptors lacking PGC-1alpha only lose function with increased age, indicating a change in metabolic signature of the photoreceptors and supporting cells with aging. Current studies include the addition of mitochondrial toxicant exposure with aging, to begin to model the complex environmental and lifestyle elements of healthy and unhealthy retinal aging. Future directions include evaluation of the functional effect of chronic heavy metal exposure on retinal photoreceptors, and the study of companion (pet) dogs as sentinels for human neuroaging.

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