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Randy J. Nelson, PhD

Hazel Ruby McQuain Chair for Neurological Research; Director of Basic Science Research, WVU RNI; Professor, Behavioral Medicine & Psychiatry

Randy J. Nelson


1 Medical Center Drive
BMRC Room 305
PO Box 9303
Morgantown, WV 26506


Behavioral Medicine & Psychiatry; Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute

Graduate Training

PhD, Psychology, and PhD, Endocrinology, University of California, Berkeley


Post-doctoral Fellow, University of Texas, Austin

Research Topics

Biological rhythms, sleep, neuroinflammation, behavioral endocrinology

About Randy J. Nelson, PhD

Dr. Nelson holds the Hazel Ruby McQuain Chair for Neurological Research in the WVU School of Medicine and is director of basic science research in the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, as well as across the University. He also leads the neuroscience PhD program as one of the seven biomedical science PhD programs at the Health Sciences Center, and serves as a professor in the WVU Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry.

Dr. Nelson earned his AB and MA degrees in Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.. He earned a PhD in Psychology in 1983, as well as a second PhD in Endocrinology in 1984, both from UC Berkeley. Dr. Nelson then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Reproductive Biology at the University of Texas, Austin.

Dr. Nelson served on the faculty at The Johns Hopkins University from 1986 until 2000, where he was a professor of psychology, neuroscience, biochemistry, and molecular biology. He then served on the faculty at The Ohio State University from 2000 - 2018, during which time he served as Distinguished University Professor, as well as the co-director of both the Neuroscience Research Institute (2014-2018) and the Neuroscience Graduate Studies Program (2003-2009).  He was also the faculty lead in the Chronic Brain Injuries Discovery Theme.

Dr. Nelson has published over 400 research articles and more than 10 books describing studies in biological rhythms, behavioral neuroendocrinology, and immune function.  Current studies focus on circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are endogenous biological rhythms of about 24 hours and are a fundamental characteristic of life.  Although life evolved over the past 3-4 billion years under bright days and dark nights, humans have been able to interrupt this natural light-dark cycle for the past 130 years or so with bright light at night.  The laboratory studies the effects of these disrupted circadian rhythms on several parameters including immune function, neuroinflammation, metabolism, sleep, and mood.  Current projects in the lab include: studies of environmental endocrine disruptors and light at night on motivated behaviors such as food intake and aggression, prenatal and early life effects of light at night on metabolism and immunity, and circadian disruption on neuroinflammation associated with cardiac or cancer treatments.


Past 10 years PubMed publications

Google Scholar  

Selected Recent Publications

  • Fonken, L.K., Workman, J.L., Walton, J.C., Weil, Z.M., Morris, J.S., Haim, A., & Nelson, R.J. 2010. Light at night increases body mass by shifting the time of food intake. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107:18664-18669.
  • Fonken, L.K., Xu, X., Weil, Z.M., Chen, G., Sun, Q., Rajagopalan, S. & Nelson, R.J. 2011. Air pollution impairs cognition, provokes depressive-like behaviors and alters hippocampal cytokine expression and morphology. Molecular Psychiatry, 16:987-995. PM217270364.
  • Bedrosian, T.A., Herring, K.L., Weil, Z.M., & Nelson, R.J. 2011. Altered temporal patterns of anxiety in aged and amyloid precursor protein (APP) transgenic mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108:11686-11691. PM21709248.
  • Bedrosian, T.A., Weil, Z.M., & Nelson, R.J. 2013. Chronic dim light at night provokes reversible depression-like phenotype: possible role for TNF. Molecular Psychiatry, 18: 930-936. PM228224811.
  • Bedrosian, T.A., Vaughn, C.A., Galan, A., Daye, Ghassan, Weil, Z.M. & Nelson, R.J. 2013. Nocturnal light exposure impairs affective responses in a wavelength-dependent manner. Journal of Neuroscience, 33:13081-13087. PM23926261.
  • Fonken, L.K. & Nelson, R.J. 2014. The effects of light at night on circadian clocks and metabolism. Endocrine Reviews, 35:648-670. PMID24673196
  • Gaudet, A., Fonken, Gushchina, L., L.K., Aubrecht, T.A., Maura, S.K., Periasamy, M., Nelson, R.J., & Popovich, P.G. 2016. microRNA-155 deletion prevents diet-induced obesity in mice. Scientific Reports, 6:22862; doi: 10.1038/srep22862
  • Bedrosian, T.A. & Nelson, R.J. 2017. Timing of light exposure affects mood and brain circuits. Translational Psychiatry, 7: e1017. PM28140399.
  • Borniger, J.C., Walker, W.H., Gaudier-Diaz, M.M., Stegman, C., Zhang, N., Hollyfield, J.L., Nelson, R.J. & DeVries, A.C. 2017. Time-of-day dictates transcriptional inflammatory responses to cytotoxic chemotherapy. Scientific Reports, 7:1-11. PM28117419.
  • Cisse, YM, Russart, KL, & Nelson, RJ. 2017. Parental exposure to dim light at night prior to mating alters offspring adaptive immunity. Scientific Reports, 31:1-10. PM28361901.