Stephanie Fretham

Stephanie Fretham portrait
Associate Professor of Biology
Neuroscience Program Director

Office: Sampson Hoffland Lab 290H

Phone: 563-387-1555



Stephanie is a member of the Biology Department and teaches Human Anatomy and Human Dissection in Fall semesters and Experimental Neuroscience and Toxicology courses in January and Spring semesters. Stephanie’s research program uses C. elegans, a small and very versatile nematode model system, to investigate the effect of metals on the nervous system and the interaction between genetic and environmental factors in the development of neurodegenerative disease.

BIO 115: Human Anatomy

A basic gross anatomy course including dissection of the cat with reference and comparison made to human organ systems. For nonbiology majors. Lectures and laboratory.

BIO 254: Experimental Neuroscience

This course will use a variety of experimental techniques and model systems commonly used in neuroscience research to explore concepts fundamental to the development and systems organization of the human nervous system. Students will be exposed to immunohistochemistry, techniques for structural analysis, behavioral assays, neuroanatomy, and electrophysiological simulations. In addition concepts such as experimental design, data analysis, and research ethics will be discussed. Prerequisites: BIO 151 and 152.

BIO 301: Human Dissection and Anatomy

An in-depth gross anatomy course that includes dissection of a human cadaver. Skeletal, muscular, nervous, digestive, cardiovascular, respiratory, and urogenital systems will be covered. Lectures and laboratory.

BIO 358: Toxicology

This course covers the principles of toxicology, the study of poisons. Topics include molecular and cellular sites of toxicant action, physiological effects of toxicants in mammalian systems and ecological systems, and the application of toxicology to public health and policy. Central toxicology concepts such as dose-response, mixtures, gene-environment interaction, and endocrine/reproductive toxicity will be explored in the laboratory culminating in student-designed research projects and scientific papers. Lectures and laboratory.

  • Ph.D., Neuroscience, University of Minnesota
  • B.A., Biology and Psychology, Luther College

My research is focused on understanding common features of neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disease. Despite the large number of unique conditions that affect the nervous system, several abnormalities are shared by multiple developmental and degenerative conditions. I am specifically interested in two key cellular functions:

  1. Regulation of iron. Iron is an important co-factor for many enzymes involved in energy production, RNA synthesis, oxygen regulation, and oxidative stress. Too little or too much iron can damage cells, particularly in the nervous system.
  2. Insulin signaling pathway activity. Insulin signaling is one important way that all cells respond to their environment to regulate survival, growth, and plasticity in neurons which is important for learning and memory. Abnormal pathway activity can lead to cell death, cancer, altered structure, and neuronal dysfunction.

C. elegans is a great model system for asking questions about why iron and insulin signaling are so important for a healthy nervous system. C. elegans are tiny (~1mm long) worms found in the soil.  While they don’t have brains, these worms do have a well-characterized nervous system with most of the same neurotransmitters and receptors as humans. They were the first multi-cellular organism to have a sequenced genome, and there are several mutant strains available including models of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS, and strains with altered insulin signaling and iron regulation. Students in my lab learn to raise C. elegans and perform genetic, biochemical, and behavioral experiments aimed at better understanding how iron and insulin signaling interact within a healthy and diseased nervous system.