Robert MarcRobert Marc joined the Research Faculty of the Moran Eye Center in 1993 after 15 years at the University of Texas at Houston, where he was the Robert Greer Professor of Biomedical Science. Dr. Marc’s early research provided the first maps of the different color varieties of photoreceptors in the retina. It is now clear that it is this unique pattern of color sensitive cones which dictates many features of our perception of color and form. And as retinal disease inexorably disassembles the retina, these exquisite sensors are often among the first to fail.

Dr. Marc’s lab was also the first to provide rich molecular maps to visualize the nerve cell wiring patterns or “circuitry” of the retina responsible for the processes of seeing color, form and texture. These “molecular rainbows” helped uncover the diversity of nerve cells in the human retina. We now believe that nearly 80 different cell types (and thousands to millions of copies of each) are needed to assemble all of the networks for human vision. Along with other vision scientists such as Utah’s Dr. Helga Kolb, Dr. Marc’s analyses of wiring patterns are helping decipher the “neural code” underlying vision. This is a code we must fully understand if we are ever to build synthetic vision for the blind.

After 30 years of continuous NIH funding, Dr. Marc’s laboratory now exploits advanced molecular detection, imaging, and computational technologies to produce new, richer visualizations of neurons and how they are connected. These new approaches allow the Marc Laboratory to track disruptions in these connections triggered by retinal diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration. The ultimate goal of this research is to learn enough about the assembly, function and disassembly of these networks to guide the development of strategies to repair defects triggered by retinal diseases.

Education: PhD, University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Houston

Academic Appointments: Mary H. Boesche Professor of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences—University of Utah School of Medicine; Professor of Physiology (Adjunct); Director of Research—John A. Moran Eye Center

Image of primate red, green and blue cones for daylight vision surrounded by a sea of rods for night vision.
Primate red, green and blue cones for daylight
vision surrounded by a sea of rods for night vision.

Patient Care Significance

Image of mouse eye profile superimposed on human eye profile.
Used for teaching and discovering,
Dr. Marc requested several walls in his
new Laboratory be made entirely of
white board.

Work in the Marc Laboratory has shown that many retinal diseases (retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration) lead to severe alterations in the wiring and survival of retinal neurons via a process known as remodeling. We also know that neurons unplug themselves permanently if the photoreceptors don’t signal properly, resulting in rapid blindness. If we are to restore vision to the blind by genetic, molecular, cellular or even bionic therapies, this remodeling process must be controlled. It may even be exploited if we can learn how to steer neurons to the right targets and “plug in” anew. The Marc Laboratory is the Moran Eye Center‘s lead team in discovering the nature and scope of remodeling and searching for mechanisms to control or use it.

Journal covers featuring molecular visualizations of retinal nerve cells from the Marc Laboratory.
Molecular visualizations of retinal nerve cells from the
Marc Laboratory have been featured on many journal covers.

A sample of major publications from the Marc Laboratory

Marc R.E. (2006) Functional anatomy of the neural retina. Principles and Practice of Ophthalmology 3d Edition. Eds. Albert and Jakobiec.

Jones B.W., Watt C., Frederick J.M., Baehr W., Chen C.K., Levine E., Milam A., LaVail M.M., Marc R.E. (2003) Retinal remodeling triggered by photoreceptor degenerations. J Comp Neurol 464: 1-16.

Marc R.E., Jones B.W. (2002) Molecular phenotyping of retinal ganglion cells. J Neurosci 22:413-427.

Kalloniatis M., Marc R.E., Murry R.F. (1996) Amino signatures in the primate retina. J Neuroscience 16: 6807- 6829.

Marc R.E., Sperling H.G. (1977) The chromatic organization of primate cones. Science 196:454-456.