Matthew D. Nelson, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Biology, Director of Animal Studies Program
Office: 222 Science Center
Phone: 6106601827

The Nelson lab is looking for students who are excited about studying the genetics and neurobiology of sleep. Students are encouraged to directly contact Dr. Nelson for more information.



  • B.S. Mathematics, Pennsylvania State University (2000)
  • M.S. Biology, Villanova University (2005)
  • Ph.D. Biology, New York University (2010)

Professional Experience

  • Postdoctoral Fellow (2011-2014), Lab of Dr. David M. Raizen, Department of Neurology, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia PA

Courses Taught

  • BIO 161 Human Organism
  • BIO 201 Organismal Biology
  • BIO 417 Systemic Physiology
  • BIO 428 Histopathology
  • BIO 727 Histopathology


  • Cianciulli A, Yoslov Y, Buscemi K, Sullivan N, Vance RT, Janton F, Szurgot MR, Buerkert T, Li E and Nelson MD. Interneurons regulate locomotion quiescence via cyclic adenosine monophosphate signaling during stress-induced sleep in Caenorhabditis elegans. Genetics. Early online July 10, 2019; doi: 10.1534/genetics.119.302293.
  • Etzel S, Lindner R, Nelson MD and Winkler A. Structure-guided design and functional characterization of an artificial red light-regulated guanylate/adenylate cyclase for optogenetic applications. J Biol Chem. 2018. Jun 8;293(23):9078-9089. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA118.003069.
  • Fingerut J, Cautela J, Patrick H, Brown A, Nelson MD, and McRobert S.The use of 3D printing to facilitate Drosophila behavior research. Drosophila information service 2017. 100:201-204.
  • Iannacone M, Beets I, Lopes L, Churgin M, Fang-Yen C, Nelson MD, Schoofs L and Raizen D. The RFamide receptor DMSR-1 regulates stress-induced sleep in C. elegans. eLife 2017; 6:19837.
  • Nelson MD, Janssen T, Lee KH, York N, Schoofs L and Raizen DM. FRPR-4 is a G-protein coupled neuropeptide receptor that regulates behavioral quiescence and posture in Caenorhabditis elegans. PLoS One. 2015 Nov 16;10(11):e0142938. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0142938. eCollection 2015
  • Trojanowski N, Nelson MD, Flavell SW, Fang-Yen C, and Raizen DM. Distinct mechanisms underlie quiescence during two Caenorhabditis elegans sleep-like states. Journal of Neuroscience. 2015 Oct 28;35(43):14571-84. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1369-15.2015​
  • Lenz O, Xiong J, Nelson MD, Raizen DM and Williams JA. FMRFamide signaling promotes stress-induced sleep in Drosophila. Brain, Behavior and Immunity. 2015. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2014.12.08
  • Nelson MD, Lee KH, Churgin MA, Hill AJ, Van Buskirk C, Fang-Yen C and Raizen DM. FMRF-like FLP-13 neuropeptides promote quiescence following heat stress in Caenorhabditis elegans. Current Biology (2014).
    -Highlighted in: Let Sleeping Worms Lie. Natasha Bray. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 15 October 2014; doi:10.1038/nrn3849
    -Editor's Choice: A. M. VanHook, The Healing Power of Sleep. Sci. Signal. 7, ec299 (2014). DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.aaa1491
  • Ryu MH, Kang IH, Nelson MD, Jensen T, Silyberg-Liberies J, Raizen DM, and Gomelsky M. 2014. Homodimeric bacteriophytochrome engineering: a near-infrared light activated adenylyl cyclase. PNAS. Jul 15;111(28):10167-72. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1324301111.
  • Nelson MD, Trojanowski N, Smith C, George-Raizen J, Chiu Cheui JJ, Fang-Yen C and Raizen DM. 2013. The Neuropeptide NLP-22 regulates a sleep-like state in Caenorhabditis elegans. Nature Communications Dec 4;4:2846. doi: 10.1038/ncomms3846.
  • Nelson MD and Raizen DM. 2013. A sleep state during C. elegans development. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 23(5), 824-830. doi:10.1016/j.conb.2013.02.015.
  • Nelson MD, Zhou E, Kiontke K, Fradin H, Maldanado G Martin D, Shah K, and Fitch DHA. 2011. A bow-tie genetic architecture for morphogenesis suggested by a genome-wide RNAi screen in C. elegans. PLoS Genetics 7(3): e1002010. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002010.
  • Nelson MD and Fitch DH. 2011. Overlap extension PCR: an efficient method for transgene construction. Methods in Molecular Biology: Evolutionary Genetics 772, 459-470.
  • Kennedy C, Nelson MD and Bamezai A. 2011. Analysis of detergent-free lipid rafts isolated from CD4+ T cell line: interaction with antigen presenting cells promotes coalescing of lipid rafts. Cell Communication and Signaling Dec 8;9(1):31. doi:10.1186/1478-811X-9-31.
  • George S*, Nelson MD* and Bamezai A. 2006. A novel approach to examining compositional heterogeneity of detergent resistant lipid rafts. Immunology and Cell Biology 84:192-202. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1711.2006.01421.x. *Co-first author

Grants and Awards


Every animal on earth sleeps or displays quiescent behaviors that resemble sleep.  Humans spend greater than a third of their lives asleep but, amazingly, fundamental questions about sleep remain unanswered including: What is its function? And; How is it regulated at a molecular and genetic level?  In fact, sleep remains one of nature’s greatest biological mysteries.

Simple animals such as fruit flies and nematodes have become key tools in the sleep biology field.  These animals are called “model organisms” because many of the same genes and molecules that drive their biology also controls ours. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is a microscopic, free-living worm that has been widely used in the lab as a model for understanding development and behavior. C.elegans displays sleep behaviors at regularly timed intervals during larval development and in response to stressful environmental stimuli.  But, why study sleep in a microscopic worm? First, C.elegans is a powerful genetic system that we can manipulate with ease. They are transparent and grow from an embryo to an adult in 4 days, thus allowing for fast genetic alteration and experimentation.  Because of their simplicity, we know the location of every one of their cells and the connection of every neuron in its simple nervous system (Only 302 neurons!).  My lab takes advantage of this amazing animal in hopes to further our understanding of sleep. Specifically, my research focuses on the following: 1) Identification of sleep regulating neurons and how they communicate as neural circuits to control sleep behavior and; 2) Characterize the mechanisms of how signaling molecules called neuropeptides regulate sleep.  We use a combination of techniques common in the following disciplines: genetics, molecular biology, neurobiology and behavior.