Richard Nass, PhD

Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology

Research Interests

Molecular mechanisms involved in Parkinson's disease and dopamine neurodegeneration; identification of novel therapeutic targets and compounds that can protect against dopamine neuron degeneration.



B.S. Microbiology | North Carolina State University | Raleigh, North Carolina


B.A. Chemistry | North Carolina State University | Raleigh, North Carolina


PhD Cellular and Molecular Physiology | The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Baltimore, MD

1998 - 2002      

Postdoctoral Fellow | Department of Pharmacology | Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN

Parkinson's disease (PD) is the second most prevalent neurodegenerative disorder and is characterized by the irreversible loss of dopamine (DA) neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta. Despite its high prevalence and over 40 years of intense investigations into the disorder, the molecular determinants involved in the etiology of the disease remain elusive. A significant hindrance in identifying the molecular components involved in DA neurodegeneration is the limitations of mammalian models to incorporate in vivo genetic and chemical strategies in the search for endogenous molecules and pharmaceuticals that could

be involved in, or could protect against, the neurodegeneration.

We have developed a new pharmacogenetic model system using the nematode C. elegans to explore the molecular basis of DA neuron degeneration. Our research goals are to utilize this system to evaluate DA neurodegeneration in vivo, to identify and characterize the molecular components involved in DA neuron cell death, and to screen for compounds that inhibit (pharmaceutical leads) or enhance (toxins) DA neuron degeneration.

Selected Publications 

  • Boyes, WK., Nass, R., Schantz, SL., Lattal, KM., Bushnell, PJ (2011) Can animal neurotoxicity predict human dysfunction? Submitted.

  • VanDuyn, N., Settivari, R., Wong, G., Nass, R. (2010) Nrf2/SKN-1 inhibits dopamine neuron degeneration in a Caenorhabditis elegans model of methylmercury toxicity. Tox. Sci. 118:613-24

  • Nass, R., Braun, AK (2010) Biomarkers and gene models give clues in mercury toxicity. Clin. Forens. Tox. News 3:4-6

  • Asikainen,S., Rudgalvyte, M., Heikkinen, L., Louhiranta, K., Lakso, M., Wong, G., Nass, R. (2010) Global microRNA expression profiling of Caenorhabditis elegans Parkinson’s disease models. J Mol Neurosci. 41:210-8

  • Settivari, R., LeVora, J., Nass, R. (2009) The divalent metal transporter homologues SMF-1/2 mediates dopamine neuron sensitivity in Caenorhabditis elegans models of manganism and Parkinson’s disease. J. Biol. Chem. 284:35758-68

  • Nass, R., Merchant, KM., Ryan, T., (2008) Caenohabditis elegans in Parkinson’s disease drug discovery: addressing an unmet medical need. Molecular Interventions. 8:284-93 

  • Nass, R. and Przedborski, S., (2008) eds. Parkinson’s disease: Molecular and Therapeutic Insights from Model System. Elsevier Academic Press

  • Nass, R. (2008) C. elegans Genetic Strategies to Identify Novel Parkinson’s disease-associated therapeutic targets and leads In: Parkinson’s disease: Molecular and Therapeutic Insights from Model Systems, eds. R. Nass and S. Przedborski. Elsevier Academic Press. 361-367

  • Nass, R., Settivari, R. (2008) C. elegans models of Parkinson’s disease: a robust genetic system to identify and characterize endogenous and environmental components involved in dopamine neuron degeneration (2008). In: Parkinson’s disease: Molecular and Therapeutic Insights from Model Systems, eds. R. Nass and S. Przedborski. Elsevier Academic Press. 347-56

  • Peterson, RT., Nass, R., Boyd, WA., Freedman, JH., Dong, K., Narahashi, T. (2008) Use of non-mammalian alternative models for neurotoxicological study. Neurotoxicology 29:545-54

  • Nass, R., Chen, L. (2008) C. elegans models of human neurodegenerative diseases: a powerful tool to identify molecular mechanisms and novel therapeutic targets. In: Sourcebook of Model Organisms in Biomedical Research, ed. P.M. Conn. Humana Press. 91-101

  • Jiang, GC-T., Tidwell, K., McLaughlin, B., Cai, J., Gupta, Milatovic, D., Nass, R., Aschner (2007) Neurotoxic potential of depleted uranium - effects in primary cortical neuron cultures and in Caenorhabditis elegans. Tox. Sci, 99:553-565

  • Nass, R., Hamza, I. (2007) The nematode C. elegans as a model to explore toxicology in vivo: solid and axenic growth culture conditions and compound exposure parameters, Curr Protoc. Tox., 1.9.1-1.9.18

  • Nass, R., Nichols, CD. (2007) Invertebrates as powerful genetic models for human neurodegenerative diseases. In: Handbook of Contemporary Neuropharmacology, ed. D. Sibley, I. Hanin, and M. Kuhar. John Wiley and Sons, 567-588 

  • Vartiainen, S., Pehkonen, P., Lakso, M., Nass, R., Wong, G. (2006) Identification of gene expression changes in transgenic C. elegans overexpressing human alpha-synuclein. Neurobio. Dis. 22:477-486

  • Asikainen, S., Vartianinen, S., Lakso, M., Nass, R., Wong, G. (2005) Selective sensitivity of Caenorhabditis elegans neurons to RNA interference. Neuroreport 17:230-231

  • Nass, R., Hahn, M., Jessen, T., McDonald, P., Carvelli, L., Blakely, RD (2005) A genetic screen in C. elegans for dopamine neuron insensitivity to 6-hydroxdopamine identifies dopamine transporter mutants impacting transporter biosynthesis and trafficking. J. Neurochem. 94:774-785

  • Lakso, M., Vartianinen, S., Moilanen, A., Sirvio, J., Thomas, J.H., Nass, R., Blakely, R., Wong, G. (2003) Dopaminergic neuronal loss and motor deficits in C. elegans overexpressing human α-synuclein. J. Neurochem. 86: 165-172

  • Nass, R. and Blakely, R.D. (2003). The Caenorhabditis elegans dopaminergic system: opportunities for insights into dopamine transport and neurodegeneration. Ann. Rev. Pharmacol. Toxicol. 43:521-544

  • Nass, R., Hall, D.H., Miller, D.M., and Blakely, R.D. (2002). Neurotoxin-induced degeneration of dopamine neurons in Caenorhabditis elegans. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 99:3264–3269

  • Nass, R., Miller, D.M., and Blakely, R.D. (2001) C. elegans: a novel pharmacogenetic model to study Parkinson’s disease. Parkinsonism and Related Disorders 7: 185–191

  • Nass, R. and Rao, R. (1999) The yeast endosomal Na+/H+ exchanger, NHX1, confers osmotolerance following acute hypertonic shock. Microbiology 145: 3221–3228

  • Nass, R. and Rao, R. (1998) Novel localization of a Na+/H+ exchanger in a late endosomal compartment of yeast. Implications for vacuole biognesis. J. Biol. Chem. 273: 21054–21060

  • Nass, R., Cunningham, K.W., and Rao, R. (1997) Intracellular sequestration of sodium by a novel Na+/H+ exchanger in yeast is enhanced by mutations in the plasma membrane H+-ATPase. Insights into mechanisms of Na+ tolerance. J. Biol. Chem. 272: 26145–26152

  • Natalia VanDuyn was awarded a prestigious Environmental Protection Agency STAR Fellowship to further her development of a novel C. elegans model to study methylmercury toxicity (September 2010). Congratulations Natalia!!

  • Dr. Raja Settivari and Gary Sinclair were recognized for presenting one of the top ten posters at the C. elegans Worm Meeting (August 2010). Congrats Raja and Gary!

  • Natalia VanDuyn was awarded 1st place for abstract and poster by a graduate student for her C. elegans methylmercury studies by the Metals Specialty Section at the 49th Annual Society of Toxicology meeting (March 2010). Congrats Natalia!

  • Dr. Raja Settivari was awarded the top research paper of the year for his 2009 J. Bio. Chem. publication on the development of the first C. elegans model of manganism by the Occupational and Public Health Specialty Section at the 49th Annual Society of Toxicology meeting (March 2010). Congrats Raja!!

  • Natalia VanDuyn was awarded the Colgate-Palmolive Award for Student Research Training in Alternative Methods to visit and collaborate with Dr. Bill Atchison at Michigan State University on her C. elegans methylmercury project (March 2010). Congrats Natalia!

  • Natalia VanDuyn was awarded a prestigious Predoctoral Fellowship in Pharmacology/Toxicology for her C. elegans methylmercury studies by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) (December 2009). Congratulations Natalia!!

  • Jennifer and Patrick LeVora welcome Patrick Thomas into the world a day after Thanksgiving Day (November 2009). Congrats Jennifer and Patrick!!

  • Jennifer LeVora was awarded 3rd place for best abstract, poster, and presentation by a graduate student for her C. elegans manganese studies at the International Worm Meeting (August 2009). Congrats Jenny!

  • Jennifer LeVora was awarded 1st place for best for a poster at the Indiana University School of Medicine Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute Meeting (March 2009). Congratulations Jen!

  • Dr. Raja Settivari received the 1st place Mehendale/Singh ASIO Student Award for his C. elegans manganese and Parkinson’s disease studies at the 48th Annual Society of Toxicology meeting (March 2009). Congrats Raja!

  • Dr. Raja Settivari was awarded 1st place for his abstract, poster, and presentation for his C. elegans PD and manganism studies in the post-doctoral fellow category by the Neurotoxicology Specialty Section at the 48th Annual Society of Toxicology meeting (March 2009). Congratulations Raja!

  • Dr. Richard Nass’s and Albert William’s image of C. elegans neurons from a novel animated movie they generated that describes the utility of C. elegans for pharmacogenetic and environmental toxicological studies is selected to be on the cover of the journal Molecular Interventions (December 2008). Congratulations Richard and Albert!

  • Dr. Richard Nass and Dr. Serge Przedborski publish their book on Parkinson’s disease entitled “Parkinson’s disease: Molecular and Therapeutic Insights from Model Systems” Academic Press (Elsevier) (August 2008). Thank you to the 99 world-class researchers who contributed to this unique and exciting reference!!

Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology | 635 Barnhill Drive, MS A401 | Indianapolis, IN 46202