Faculty Profile - University of Houston
Skip to main content

Faculty Profile

Alison McDermottAlison McDermott

Associate Professor
Department of Biology and Biochemistry
Research Division:
Cell and Molecular Biology (Joint/Adjunct)

Office: JDA 2146
Contact: amcdermott@uh.edu - (713) 743-1974

Education: PhD


The ocular surface comprises the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that covers the white sclera of the eye, and the clear cornea which provides a window for the passage of light in to the eye. The overall goal of my research program is to gain a better understanding of the ocular surface at the cellular and molecular level so that we will better equipped to treat ocular surface disease (such as infection and dry eye), improve the wound healing response following refractive surgeries (such as LASIK) and develop artificial corneas that closely mimic the normal tissue and can be used for corneal transplantation.

Currently the major focus of my research is to investigate the functions of defensins and cathelicidin at the ocular surface. Whilst these antimicrobial peptides undoubtedly have a role to play in protecting the ocular surface from microorganisms, evidence from other tissues suggests that they may also act as growth factors, chemotactic factors and regulate cytokine production and immune responses. In the lab we are using a variety of techniques including proliferation and chemotaxis assays, RT-PCR, western blots, immunostaining and enzyme immunoassay to study the non-microbicidal functions of defensins and cathelicidin in the cornea. We are also studying changes in the susceptibility to ocular infection in knockout animals missing defensin or cathelicidin genes to determine which of the several antimicrobial peptides expressed by the ocular surface epithelia are particularly important in defence against infection.

Other ongoing projects include investigating the anti-cancer activity of antimicrobial peptides, the role of inflammation and toll-like receptors in the pathogenesis of the common ocular condition dry eye and studying characteristics of corneal keratocytes and their repair phenotypes. We also have an ongoing collaboration with Dr. Chengzhi Cai of the UH Department of Chemistry to develop surfaces (e.g. contact lenses) with antimicrobial coatings.

  • Lopez AI, Reins RY, McDermott AM, Trautner BW, Cai C. (2009) Antibacterial activity and cytotoxicity of PEGylated poly(amidoamine) dendrimers. In press Molecular BioSystems.
  • McDermott AM. (2009) The Role of Antimicrobial Peptides at the Ocular Surface. Ophthalmic Res 41, 60-75.
  • Narayanan S, Corrales RM, Farley W, McDermott AM, Pflugfelder SP. (2008) Interleukin-1 Receptor-1 deficient mice show attenuated production of ocular surface inflammatory cytokines in experimental dry eye. Cornea 27, 811-817.
  • Huang LC, Redfern RL, Narayanan S, Reins RY, McDermott AM. (2007) In vitro activity of human beta-defensin 2 against pseudomonas aeruginosa in the presence of tear fluid. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 51, 3853-3860.
  • Huang LC, Reins RY, Gallo RL, McDermott AM. (2007) Cathelicidin-deficient (Cnlp-/-) mice show increased susceptibility to Pseudomonas aeruginosa keratitis. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 48, 4498-4508.
  • Huang LC, Jean D, Proske RJ, Reins RY, McDermott AM. (2007) Ocular surface expression and in vitro activity of antimicrobial peptides. Curr Eye Res. 32, 595-609.
  • Calabretta MK, Kumar A, McDermott AM, Cai C. (2007) Antibacterial activities of poly(amidoamine) dendrimers terminated with amino and poly(ethylene glycol) groups. Biomacromolecules 8, 1807-1811.
  • Narayanan S, Miller LW, McDermott AM. (2006) Conjunctival cytokine expression in symptomatic moderate dry eye subjects. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 47, 2445-2450.
  • Huang LC, Petkova TD, Reins RY, Proske RJ and McDermott AM. (2006) Multi-functional roles of human cathelicidin (LL-37) at the ocular surface. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 47, 2369-2380.
  • McDermott AM, Rich D, Cullor J, Mannis MJ, Smith W, Reid T, Murphy CJ. (2006) The in vitro activity of selected defensins against an isolate of Pseudomonas in the presence of human tears Br. J. Ophthalmol 90, 609-611.
  • Gordon YJ, Huang LH, Romanowski EG, Yates KA, Proske RJ, McDermott AM. (2005) Human cathelicidin (LL-37), a multifunctional peptide, is expressed by ocular surface epithelia and has potent antibacterial and antiviral activity. Curr Eye Res 30, 385-394.
  • Narayanan S, Glasser A, Hu Y-S and McDermott AM. (2005) The effect of Interleukin-1 on cytokine gene expression by human corneal epithelial cells. Exp Eye Res. 80, 175-183.
  • Huang LC, Jean D, McDermott AM. (2005) Effect of preservative free artificial tears on the antimicrobial activity of human Beta-defensin-2 and Cathelicidin LL-37 in vitro. Eye Contact Lens, 31, 34-38.
  • Narayanan S, Miller WL and McDermott AM. (2003) Expression of human Beta-defensins in conjunctival epithelium: relevance to dry eye disease. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 44, 3795-3801.
  • McDermott AM, Redfern RL, Zhang B, Pei Y, Huang L and Proske RJ. (2003) Defensin expression by the cornea: multiple signaling pathways mediate IL-1Beta stimulation of hBD-2 expression by human corneal epithelial cells. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 44,1859-1865.
  • McDermott AM, Redfern RL and Zhang B. (2001) Human Beta-defensin 2 is up-regulated during re-epithelialization of the cornea. Curr. Eye Res. 22, 64-67.