Tatjana C. Jakobs, M.D.

Harvard Medical School

Associate Professor of Ophthalmology

Schepens Eye Research Institute of Massachusetts Eye and Ear

Assistant Scientist

Research Summary

Center/Research Area Affiliations


Dr. Jakobs is a molecular and cell biologist. Her main research focus is on the interaction between neurons and supporting glial cells in glaucoma. Using various models of glaucomatous and traumatic optic nerve damage, her laboratory studies the response of optic nerve glia to injury. The goal is to better understand the role of optic nerve astrocytes and microglia in the progression of glaucoma.

Download her CV or biosketch [PDF] for more information.


M.D., Magna cum laude, University of Wuerzburg, Germany (1995)

Postgraduate Training

Neurosurgery Research, Massachusetts General Hospital (2000-2007)

Professional Memberships

Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO)

Society for Neuroscience

International Society for Eye Research (ISER)

American Academy of Anatomists


2012: Dolly Green Special Scholar Award, Research to Prevent Blindness
1997-1999: Full Scholarship Japan Society for the Promotion of Science
1996: First European von Basedow Research Prize

Her Story

Dr. Jakobs studied in the Department of Physiological Chemistry under Walter Sebald. The subject of her dissertation was the biochemical characterization of the Interleukin-2 receptor heavy chain. After earning her medical degree, Dr. Jakobs studied thyroid hormone metabolism in the laboratory of Josef Koehrle at the Clinical Research Group of the Medical Policlinic of the University of Wuerzburg. The work she completed there was awarded the First European von Basedow Research Prize in 1996.

Since 2004, Dr. Jakobs, has focused her research on glaucoma—a group of eye diseases in which vision loss is caused by damage to the optic nerve. Working in collaboration with Dr. Simon John at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, she surveyed ganglion cells in a mouse model of inherited glaucoma (DBA/2J). Her goal was to determine if there is a differential sensitivity between ganglion cell types and glaucomatous degeneration. This was not the case. The ganglion cells degenerated in radial, fan-shaped sectors that had the narrowest point at the optic nerve head. This topology of ganglion cell degeneration is difficult to explain by any other mechanism than a focal insult to neighboring axons in the optic nerve. Following this discovery, the team turned their attention to the glial cells of the optic nerve.

In 2009, Dr. Jakobs moved her research to Massachusetts Eye and Ear, where she currently follows two lines of research:

Anatomy of optic nerve glia: Ganglion cell axons are organized into bundles, separated by an intricate network of astroglia, in a short segment of the optic nerve directly behind the sclera. The lab uses immunostaining, single-cell injection and a transgenic mouse strain that expresses GFP in optic nerve astrocytes to visualize these structures in non-glaucomatous animals.

Optic nerve response to glia injury: Dr. Jakobs uses short-term models of optic nerve damage and genetic mouse models of glaucoma to study the response of optic nerve glia to injury.

She received grants from the Glaucoma Foundation, the Bright Focus Foundation, The International Retina Research Foundation, the Ellison Foundation, Research to Prevent Blindness, and the Massachusetts Lions to support her work. Since October 2009, she has been a Principal Investigator on a grant from the National Eye Institute (NEI). The goal of her NEI project is to better understand the role of optic nerve astrocytes in the progression of glaucoma.


Research Interests

  • Retinal anatomy and gene expression in single retinal neurons
  • Neuron structure and function within the context of glaucoma
  • Anatomy of the optic nerve
  • Glial cells in the optic nerve
ganglion cell

Cell Biology of Astrocytes in the Optic Nerve Head

This project is using short-term and long-term models of optic nerve damage with the overall goal of understanding “reactive gliosis” in the optic nerve more thoroughly.

Communication between Ganglion Cells and Glial Cells

The aim of this project is finding what kind of signaling mechanisms exist between injured ganglion cells and the glial cells that are surrounding them.

Glaucoma Susceptibility Genes and their Activity in the Retina and Optic Nerve

Several genomic regions have been associated with glaucoma in genome-wide association studies, but it is not always clear why. We are using transgenic mice to better understand the activity of these genes in glaucoma.

Regulation of Astrocyte Reactivity during Normal Aging and in Glaucoma

Dr. Jakobs is looking at transcription factors and signaling molecules that help regulate astrocyte reactivity in the optic nerve in aging, glaucoma and traumatic optic nerve damage. She is using microarray screening, RNA-sequencing, transgenic animals, light- and electron microscopy, and visual function testing to test the function of genes that are up-regulated in reactive astrocytes.

Current Research Funding

 2016-2020 National Institutes of Health
Cell biology of astrocytes in the optic nerve head



21 (Google Scholar, as of May 2017)

Selected Publications

Dr. Jakobs has published more than 30 peer-reviewed articles, 1 book, and 4 chapters. Below is a list of selected publications. View her publications on PubMed, Google Scholar, or ORCID.

  1. Jakobs TC, Libby RT, Ben Y, John SWM, and Masland RH. Retinal ganglion cell degeneration is topological but not cell type specific in DBA/2J mice. J Cell Biol. 2005 Oct 24;171(2):313-25.
  2. Sun D, Lye-Barthel M, Masland RH, and Jakobs TC. Structural remodeling of fibrous astrocytes after optic nerve injury. J Neurosci. 2010 Oct 20;30(42):14008-19.
  3. Wang R, Seifert P, and Jakobs TC. Astrocytes in the optic nerve head of glaucomatous mice display a characteristic reactive phenotype. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2017 Feb 1;58(2):924-932.
  4. Sun D, Moore S, and Jakobs TC. Optic nerve astrocyte reactivity protects function in experimental glaucoma and other nerve injuries. J Exp Med. 2017 May 1;214(5):1411-1430.
  5. Zhu Y, Pappas AC, Wang R, Seifert P, Sun D, and Jakobs TC. Ultrastructural morphology of the optic nerve head in aged and glaucomatous mice. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2018 Aug 1;59(10): 3984-3996.


Current Members of Dr. Tatjana Jakobs’ Laboratory

Instructor in Ophthalmology
Daniel Sun, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Research Fellows
Ying Zhu, MD, PhD
Song Li, PhD

Joint Ph.D. Program
Ying Zhu, M.D.
Mingui Wang, M.D.

Nemahun Vincent, B.S.


More than 5 trainees have worked in Dr. Jakobs’ laboratory.