Ignacio Provencio

Professor of Biology
406 PLSB
(434) 924-4412
Lab: (434) 924-4258


  • B.A., Swarthmore College, 1987
  • Ph.D., University of Virginia, 1996
  • Postdoctoral Research, Uniformed Services University, 1996 -1999

Research Interests

Light is critical for many biological processes. While vision is the most obvious of these, much of our "non-visual" physiology is regulated by light. For example, the internal 24-hour (circadian) clock that controls daily rhythms such as our sleep:wake cycle is reset by light. Responses that are controlled by the sympathetic system such constriction of the eye's pupil, the production of the hormone melatonin, or even heart rate are all regulated by light to some degree. Many of these non-visual responses to light are controlled, at least in part, by a recently discovered class of photoreceptor in the retina.

Melanopsin is the photopigment within these novel photoreceptors that renders them light-sensitive. Our lab is interested in understanding the role that these melanopsin-based photoreceptors play in various non-visual responses to light. In addition, we are trying to elucidate the biochemical details of the signaling cascade that is initiated by melanopsin activation. We hope that these studies will illuminate the broader impact of light on vertebrate physiology.

Representative Publications

  • Ayturk, D.G., Castrucci, A.M., Carr, D.E., Keller, S.R., & Provencio, I. (2015) Lack of melanopsin is associated with extreme weight loss in mice upon dietary challenge.  PLoS ONE, 10(5):e0127031.
  • Provencio, I. (2011) “The hidden organ in our eyes” Scientific American, May, 58-61.
  •  Warthen, D.M., Wiltgen, B.J., & Provencio, I. (2011) Light enhances learned fear. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A 108, 13788-13793.
  •  Berson, D.M., Castrucci, A.M., & Provencio, I. (2010) Morphology and mosaics of melanopsin-expressing retinal ganglion cell types in mice. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 518, 2405-2422.
  •  Roecklein, K.A., Rohan, K.J., Duncan, W.C., Rollag, M.D., Rosenthal, N.E., Lipsky, R.H., & Provencio, I. (2009). A missense variant (P10L) of the melanopsin (OPN4) gene in seasonal affective disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 114, 279-285.