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School of Optometry and Vision Science

Cell and Molecular Biology of the Retina

Our primary goal in the Cell and Molecular Biology of the Retina laboratory (CMBR) is to further the understanding of retinal function and development in the normal and diseased retina. Can the retina be a diagnostic tissue for a range of diseases?

Lab group

We are particularly interested in characterising the mechanisms of cell loss in the retina to aid the understanding of conditions that lead to blindness, particularly age related macular degeneration. The strategy of the research is to characterize the human and animal model retina to advance clinical consideration of ocular diseases.

We are also looking at the role of the retina as an “extension of the central nervous system” to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of brain conditions.

We are always looking for new members to join our hard working team. We are currently working on a variety of projects, for details please see current projects.

Principal investigator the CMBR laboratory

Dr Monica Acosta


When I was an undergraduate student I was passionate about eye research and that passion has not banished, but increased to be a career that has become my best research achievement.

It was clear to me, during my undergraduate degree at the University of the Republic in Uruguay, that success would be up to my performance and determination. So I joined as an honorary assistant the Genetics Department where I studied the effect of genetic mutations on the fertility of flies.

Later on in 1993, I gained a position in the Department of Cell Biology through academic merits and exhibition of research skills. My first poster presentation was in 1996, when I was conducting studies for the master degree in Cell Biology. I gained invaluable experience in polytechnic chromosome preparations and detection of stages of Drosophila embryonic death. However, my interest in eye research and the Drosophila model persisted and I searched to join a group working in this field.

I was interested in a particular group in Japan working on Drosophila eye mutants. The laboratory of Prof Masahito T Kimura welcomed me and I started research under the co-supervision of Dr Kyohito Yoshida. I completed my Masters degree and engaged in a PhD in 1999 to study the genetics and molecular characteristics of Drosophila eye mutants, graduating in 2002. During my PhD I gained personal life skills reflected in my ability to adapt to multicultural research groups and attained basic research skills in genetic and molecular biology techniques necessary to conduct independent research.

After completing my PhD, I joined Professor Michael Kalloniatis’s group at the University of Auckland to study the development of the vertebrate retina. This was a fruitful experience resulting in the publication of several papers in prestigious journals and several conference presentations as an invited speaker. During my post-doc I investigated the neurochemical and biochemical signals associated with retinal degeneration. The investigation into retinal degeneration turned out to be my research career choice.

Now I have been leading a research group with initiative and purpose in achieving excellence in research. I am especially interested in guiding and supporting a research group that leads in the discipline of cell and molecular aspects of the retina in eye diseases. Through the support of colleagues at the New Zealand National Eye Centre and internal and external funds, I aim to continue this line of research that is attractive to postgraduate students, to external funding entities and that fulfils the requirements of a leading laboratory.

Dr Monica Acosta



  • de Souza C.F, Nivison-Smith, L, Christie D, Polkinghorne P, Mcghee C, Kalloniatis M, Acosta M.L. Macromolecular markers in normal human retina and applications to human retinal disease – Exp. Eye Res. in press 2016.
  • Kalloniatis M, Nivison-Smith L, Chua J, Acosta M.L., Fletcher E.L. Using the rd1 mouse to understand functional and anatomical retinal remodelling and treatment implications in retinitis pigmentosa: a review. Exp Eye Res. 2015 oct 30. pii: s0014-4835(15)30057-9. doi: 10.1016/j.exer.2015.10.019.
  • Danesh-Meyer H.V., Zhang J, Acosta M.L., Rupenthal I.D., Green C.R. Connexin43 in retinal injury and disease. Prog Retin. Eye Res. 2015 oct 7. pii: s1350-9462(15)00071-3.
  • Chang L. Y-L., Black J., Acosta M.L. Window to the central nervous system- advanced retinal imaging for early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Austin J. Clin. Neurol. 2015; 2(3):1027-1030.
  • Du L.Y., Chang L Y-L., Ardiles A.O., Tapia-Rojas C, Araya J, Inestrosa N.C., Palacios A.G., Acosta M.L. Alzheimer’s disease-related protein expression in the retina of Octodon degus. Plos one. 2015 aug 12;10(8):e0135499. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0135499.
  • Evans A.B., Acosta M.L., Bolstad K.S.. Retinal development and ommin pigment in the cranchiid squid teuthowenia pellucida (cephalopoda: oegopsida). Plos one  2015 may 13;10(5):e0123453. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0123453.
  • Nivison-Smith L, Kalloniatis M, O’Brien B.J., Truong M, Guo C.X., Acosta M.L. Vinpocetine modulates metabolic activity and function during retinal ischemia. Am. J. Physiol- Cell Physiol. 308, (9), pc737-c749, 2015, 10.1152/ajpcell.00291.2014.
  • Corfield JR, Parsons S, Harimoto Y, Acosta ML. Retinal Anatomy Of The New Zealand Kiwi: Structural Traits Consistent With Their Nocturnal Behavior. Anat Rec (Hoboken, N.J.: 2007), 298, (4), P771-779, 2015, 10.1002/Ar.23080
  • Nivison-Smith L, Zhu Y, Whatham A, Bui BV, Fletcher EL, Acosta ML, Kalloniatis M. (2014). Sildenafil alters retinal function in mouse carriers of Retinitis Pigmentosa. Experimental eye research. 128: 43-56 doi:10.1016/j.exer.2014.08.014
  • Nivison-Smith L, Acosta ML, Misra S, O'Brien BJ, Kalloniatis M. (2014). Vinpocetine regulates cation channel permeability of inner retinal neurons in the ischaemic retina. Neurochem Int, 66, 1-14. doi:10.1016/j.neuint.2014.01.003
  • Guo CX, Tan H, Green CR, Danesh-Meyer HD, Acosta MLGap junction proteins in the light-damaged albino rat. Molecular Vision. 2014; 20:670-682.
  • Nivison-Smith L, Acosta ML, Misra S, O'Brien BJ, Kalloniatis M. Vinpocetine regulates cation channel permeability of inner retinal neurons in the ischaemic retina.  Neurochem Int. 2014 Jan;66:1-14. doi: 10.1016/j.neuint.2014.01.003. Epub 2014 Jan 9.
  • Acosta ML, Shin YS, Ready S, Fletcher EL, Christie DL, Kalloniatis M. Comments on: Retinal metabolic state of the proline-23-histidine rat model of retinitis pigmentosa. Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2010; 299(3):C186-87.

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