Dr. Sylvia Smith

Regents' Professor and Chair
Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy
Professor of Ophthalmology and Graduate Studies
Director, James and Jean Culver Vision Discovery Institute

Carl Sanders Research & Education Building, CB1114
Office: 706-721-3731
Laboratory: 706-721-7392
envelope-o icon sbsmith@augusta.edu

smith lab members

Laboratory members:

Assistant Research Scientist: Jing Wang, PhD
Graduate Student: Shannon Barwick
Senior Research Associate: Haiyan Xiao, PhD


Dr. Kathryn Bollinger and her lab members: Assistant Research Scientist Barbara Mysona, PhD. and Research Associate Jing Zhao, MS.

Recent trainees:  Shanu Markand, PhD, Juan Mo, PhD, Yonju Ha, PhD, Arul Shanmugam, PhD, Preethi Ganapathy, MD, PhD, Amany Tawfik, MD, Soumya Navneet, PhD.


Research Interests

Vision is the most important sensation as fully 85% of information in the sighted person is
obtained via the visual system. Blindness takes a devastating toll emotionally and financially.
Research in the smith research retinaSmith lab focuses on normal functioning of the retina, the tissue involved in converting light images to a neural impulse for transmission to the brain (figure to the right).
We are very interested in the consequences on retinal health when those functions go awry.
One major area of interest is nutrition and the eye. Initially, we studied the transport of the vitamin folate, which is needed for synthesis of DNA and RNA by all cells. More recently, we have been studying the consequences of excess levels of homocysteine on retina. When folate levels are decreased, the levels of the amino acid homocysteine can increase. Homocysteine levels can be increased also when certain genes are mutated. We are currently using murine models with deficiencies of cystathionine beta-synthase (CBS) and methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase.
(MTHFR) to determine the retinal phenotype under conditions of hyperhomocysteinemia. Our
long range goal with these studies is to understand whether homocysteine is a mere marker of retinal neurovasculopathy or is pathogenic in the retinal degeneration.

We are also very interested in diseases that affect retinal neurons
including ganglion cells (diabetic retinopathy) and photoreceptor cells
(retinitis pigmentosa, RP). We have models for these diseases, both
in cell culture and in mouse models. For diabetic smith research modelretinopathy, we use the Ins2Akita mouse model of diabetes. For RP, we have used the Pde6b-rd10 mouse. Our studies have focused on a unique pharmacologically-defined,
non-opioid protein termed sigma 1 receptor. We have shown that ligands
for sigma R1 have robust neuroprotective properties, including in mouse models of diabetic retinopathy. The mechanism of sigma R1-mediated neuroprotection is unknown; studies suggest that sigma R1 may act as
at the mitochondrial-associated ER membrane molecular chaperone.
Recently, we characterized the retinal phenotype in mice that lack sigma
R1. We observed a late onset retinal degeneration in these mice that reflects inner retinal dysfunction. We have recently determined that the absence
of sigma R1 in retinal Müller glial cells is associated with decreased expression of Nrf2, a key modulator of oxidative stress. To investigate the efficacy of
our treatments, we use in vivo assessments (such as shown in the figure
to the right) as well as cell biological and molecular biological methods.


1977 - BS, Auburn University, Auburn, AL
1979 - MA University of Illinois, Urbana, IL
1987 - PhD University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL

Post-doctoral training

1987 - 1989 IRTA Fellow, National Institutes of Health, Natl. Eye Institute, Bethesda, MD Laboratory of Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology; Section Chief: Paul J. O'Brien, PhD

1989 - 1991 Staff Fellow, National Institutes of Health, Natl. Eye Institute, Bethesda, MD Laboratory of Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology Section Chief: Paul J. O'Brien, PhD

Honors and Awards

  • Augusta University Research Institute, Lifetime Achievement Award (2020)
  • Sigma Xi, Scientific Honor Society, elected Full Member
  • Appointed to National Advisory Eye Council
  • Past-President, Association of Cell Biology, Anatomy and Neuroscience Chairpersons
  • Regents’ Professor, Augusta University
  • Fellow, Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) program
  • Fellow of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (FARVO)
  • Editorial Board, Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
  • Mahesh Distinguished Research Award for significant, sustained contributions to research, sustained external funding as an NIH-funded principal investigator and for outstanding mentoring and leadership qualities, Augusta University Research Institute
  • Member, National Institutes of Health, Biology Diseases Posterior Eye Study Section
  • Member, Advisory Council, Bright Focus, Macular Degeneration Research
  • Distinguished Faculty Award for Basic Science Research, Medical College of Georgia
  • Distinguished Research Award, College of Graduate Studies
  • H. Talmage Dobbs Lectureship in Ophthalmology (2001, 2007)
  • Outstanding Teaching Award for Medical Gross Anatomy
  • Outstanding Young Faculty Award in Basic Science
  • Intramural Research Training Award Fellowship, National Eye Institute
  • Phi Kappa Phi

Grant Support

Title: Center Core Grant for Vision Research (P30)  P30 EYE031631
Source: National Institutes of Health, NEI
Position: Principal investigator & Module 1 director
Dates: September 1, 2020 – September 1, 2025

Title: Sigma 1 Receptor a novel therapeutic target for retinal degeneration (R01EY028103)
Source: National Institutes of Health, NEI
Position: Principal Investigator
Dates: September 30, 2017 – August 31, 2021

Title: Mechanisms of neurodegeneration in diabetic retinopathy: Role of spermine oxidase
Source: National Institutes of Health, NEI
Position: Co-Investigator (PI: Subhadra Priyadarshini Narayanan, PhD)
Dates: April 1, 2018 – March 30, 2023

Title: Mechanism of death of bystander retinal cells during MCMV infection (R01EY026642)
Source: National Institutes of Health, NEI
Position: Co-Investigator (PI: M. Zhang, PhD)
Dates: August 1, 2016 – July 31, 2021

Title: Targeting Interleukin-6 trans-signaling in diabetic retinopathy (R01EY026036)
Source: National Institutes of Health, NEI
Position: Co-Investigator (PI: S. Sharma, PhD)
Dates: September 1, 2016 – August 31, 2020

Title: Proteomic Biomarkers for Glaucomatous Optic Neuropathy (R01EY029728)
Source: National Institutes of Health, NEI
Position: Co-Investigator (PI: Ashok Sharma, PhD)
Dates: February 1, 2019 – January 30, 2022

Title: A novel neuroprotective role of optic atrophy 1 protein (R21EY031483)
Source: National Institutes of Health, NEI
Position: Co-Investigator (3%)  (PI: Y. Yoon, PhD)
Dates: September 1, 2020 – August 31, 2022

Title: Cellular and Molecular Genetics of Keratoconus. (R01EY023242)
Source: National Institutes of Health, NEI
Position: Co-Investigator (PI: Yutao Liu, PhD)
Dates: January 1, 2019 – December 30, 2024

Title: Sigma 1 Receptor: a novel therapeutic target for retinal degeneration (R01EY028103)
Administrative Supplement
Source: National Institutes of Health, NEI
Position: Principal Investigator
Dates: February 1, 2019 – August 31, 2019

Title: Understanding the relevance of hemoglobin in RPE (R21EY029113)
Source: National Institutes of Health, NEI
Position: Co-investigator (PI: Pamela Martin, PhD)
Dates: April 1, 2019 – March 31, 2021

Publications can be accessed via: National Center for Biotechnology Information PubMed and by searching Smith, S.B.


My role in the educational mission of the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University is to serve as the chief education officer within the Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy. I work with an outstanding and highly dedicated group of faculty colleagues who are committed to excellence in educating medical students, graduate students and students in the college of allied health sciences. My area of teaching expertise is in medical gross anatomy, especially related to anatomy of the head and neck. I am also involved in graduate education, including current topics in Vision Science, Fundamentals of Vision Science, Investigation of a Problem (Graduate student thesis course), and Responsible Conduct of Research. Over my career, I have mentored more than a dozen pre-doctoral fellows and a dozen post-doctoral fellows. I am committed to the CBA graduate program and am very proud of the efforts by our program director and the graduate program advisory council that is ever honing our program to meet the evolving needs of future scientists and academicians.