Skip to main content

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.

Lab Alumni

Doctoral Degrees
Joan Blom

Joan Blom, PhD , 1992
Currently: Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Modena, Italy 

Christopher Moffatt

Christopher Moffatt, PhD , 1994
Currently: Associate Professor of Biology, San Francisco State University 

Gregory Demas

Gregory Demas, PhD , 1998
Currently: Chair and Professor of Biology, Indiana University

Sabra Klein

Sabra Klein, PhD , 1998
Currently: Associate Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health

Amy Wisniewski

Amy Wisniewski, PhD , 1999
Currently: Research Director, Department of Urology, Cook's Children's Hospital

Lance Kriegsfeld

Lance Kriegsfeld, PhD , 1999
Currently: Associate Chair and Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of California, Berkeley

Kelly Young

Kelly Young, PhD (Biochemistry), 2000
Currently: Professor of Biology, California State University, Long Beach

Debbie Drazen

Deborah Drazen, PhD , 2001; JD, 2010 
Currently: Senior Patent Counsel at Johnson & Johnson

Staci Bilbo

Stacy Bilbo, PhD , 2003 
Currently: Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Harvard University

Gretchen Neigh

Gretchen Neigh, PhD, 2004 
Currently: Associate Professor of Physiology, Emory University

Leah Pyter

Leah Pyter, PhD , 2006 
Currently: Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Ohio State Wexner Medical Center

Zachary Weil

Zachary Weil, PhD , 2008
Currently: Assistant Professor of Neuroscience, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Joanna Workman

Joanna Workman, PhD , 2010 
Currently: Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Albany

Abed Zubidat

Abed Zubidat, PhD (co-advisor), 2012
Currently: Research Scientist, University of Haifa

Tracy Bedrosian

Tracy Bedrosian, PhD , 2013
Currently: Postdoctoral Fellow, Salk Institute

James Walton

James Walton, PhD , 2013
Currently: Postdoctoral Fellow, Georgia State University

Laura Fonken

Laura Fonken, PhD , 2013
Currently: Assistant Professor, University of Texas

John Morris

John Morris, PhD , 2013
Currently: Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Chicago

Taryn Aubrecht

Taryn Aubrecht, PhD , 2014
Currently: Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Maryland

Jeremy Borniger

Jeremy Borniger, PhD , 2017
Currently: Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford University

Yasmine Cisse

Yasmine Cisse, PhD , 2017
Currently: Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Maryland

Doctoral Degrees
Stephen Gammie

Stephen Gammie, PhD , 1998-2001
Currently: Professor of Integrated Biology, University of Wisconsin

Silvana Chiavegatto

Silvana Chiavegatto, PhD , 1999-2001
Currently: Associate Professor of Neuroscience, University of Sao Paulo

Brian Prendergast

Brian Prendergast, PhD , 1999-2003
Currently: Professor of Psychology, University of Chicago

Andrew Hotchkiss

Andrew Hotchkiss, PhD , 2001-2004
Currently: Biological Scientist, EPA, Research Triangle Park

Lynn Martin

Lynn Martin, PhD , 2004-2007
Currently: Professor of Integrative Biology, University of South Florida

Brian Trainor

Brian Trainor, PhD , 2004-2007
Currently: Professor of Psychology, University of California, Davis

Kristen Navara

Kristen Navara, PhD , 2005-2007
Currently: Associate Professor of Biology, University of Georgia

Noah Ashley

Noah Ashley, PhD , 2010-2012
Currently: Assistant Professor of Biology, University of Western Kentucky

Tomoko Ikeno

Tomoko Ikeno, PhD , 2012-2014
Currently: Research Scientist, University of Tokyo

Matthew Hogan

Matthew Hogan, DVM , 2013-2015
Currently: Staff Veterinarian, Harvard University

Kathryn Russart

Kathryn Russart, PhD , 2016-2018
Currently: Postdoctoral Researcher, Ohio State University

Surbhi Gahlot

Surbhi Gahlot, PhD , 2016-2018
Currently: Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Michigan

Souhad Chbeir

Souhad Chbeir, PhD , 2014-2018
Currently: Research Scientist, Ohio State University


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.