Matthew J. Van Hook, PhD

Associate Professor

Matthew J. Van Hook, PhDAreas of Interest:
Neuroscience of the retina and visual system, neurodegeneration, glaucoma, visual system development, thalamic circuitry, synaptic transmission, neuronal excitability.

Dr. Van Hook is an Associate Professor at the Truhlsen Eye Institute and the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences and holds a courtesy appointment in the Department of Cellular & Integrative Physiology. He completed a PhD in Neuroscience at Brown University with Dr. David Berson, working to understand the function of neurons in the retina responsible for regulating light entrainment of circadian rhythms. His postdoctoral training was conducted with Dr. Wallace Thoreson at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and explored the mechanisms of synaptic transmission by rod and cone photoreceptors in the retina.

The Van Hook group’s current research uses innovative neuroscience laboratory approaches including patch-clamp electrophysiology, two-photon microscopy, single-neuron neuroanatomy, optogenetics, and transgenic mouse models to explore how the structure and function of neurons in the retina and brain change during development and neurodegenerative disease. Specifically, they are interested in neuronal signaling by retinal ganglion cells to the dorsolateral geniculate nucleus (dLGN) of the thalamus, a key waypoint for conscious visual information en route to higher visual centers of the brain. Ongoing research projects seek to determine 1) how glaucoma and other neurodegenerative diseases affect retinal ganglion cell synapses in the dLGN, 2) how dLGN neuron structure and function are changed by degeneration of visual signals from the retina, and 3) how eye pressure influences gene expression and immune responses in visual areas of the brain. This work is intended to provide an understanding of how the retina relays visual information to the brain as well as insight into disease mechanisms to inform novel diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for detecting and treating blinding diseases.

The Van Hook lab collaborates with other research groups at UNMC, including with Dr. Iqbal Ahmad (Ophthalmology, stem cells & neuronal regeneration) and with Drs. Sowmya Yelamanchili & Guru Pendyala (Anesthesiology, substances of abuse and impact on brain development).

Dr. Van Hook trains PhD students through the IGPBS Neuroscience (NSC) and Integrative Physiology and Molecular Medicine (IPMM) programs. Individuals interested in research in the Van Hook lab should reach out to Dr. Van Hook for more information

Credentials – Board Certifications, Academic affiliations, Education
A.B. - Hamilton College, Clinton, NY
Ph.D. – Brown University, Providence, RI
Postdoctoral Training – University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE

Honors, Awards, and Research Funding
-NIH R01 grant EY030507, “Influence of ocular hypertension on neurons and synapses in the visual thalamus”
-Research to Prevent Blindness/The Glaucoma Foundation Career Advancement Award
-University of Nebraska Foundation Vada Kinman Oldfield Scholar
-BrightFocus Foundation National Glaucoma Research Program grant recipient
-2020 UNMC New Investigator Award

Society memberships and other professional activities:
Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, 2008 - pres.   
Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience, 2013 - pres.  
Society for Neuroscience, 2013 - pres.  
Review Editor on the Editorial Board of Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience
Scientific Review Committee member for Fight for Sight 
Contributor for the RReSTORe Initiative (RGC Repopulation, Stem Cell Transplantation, and Optic Nerve Regeneration)
Recent Van Hook lab group publications:

Van Hook MJ, Monaco C, Bierlein ER, Smith JC. (2021). Neuronal and Synaptic Plasticity in the Visual Thalamus in Mouse Models of Glaucoma. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience. 14:626056. PMID:33584206.  doi:

Van Hook MJ. (2020). Temperature effects on synaptic transmission and neuronal function in the visual thalamus. PLoS ONE 15(4):e0232451.  PMID: 32353050.  

Bhandari A, Smith J, Van Hook MJ. (2020). Bilateral enucleation induced homeostatic plasticity in the dorsolateral geniculate nucleus of mice. bioRxiv. doi:

Bhandari A, Smith JC, Zhang Y, Jensen AA, Reid L, Goeser T, Fan S, Ghate D, Van Hook MJ. (2019). Early-stage ocular hypertension alters retinal ganglion cell synaptic transmission in the visual thalamus. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience. 13:426. PMID:31607867. doi:


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Learn more about Dr. Van Hook’s research

For a list of publications, see PubMed