School of MCB COVID-19 Information

Erik Russell Nelson

Erik Russell Nelson

523 Burrill
407 South Goodwin Ave
Urbana, IL 61801
Office: (217) 244-5477
Lab: (217) 300-1418

Lab Page

Associate Professor of Molecular and Integrative Physiology

Research Topics

Cell-Cell Interactions, Drug Discovery, Endocrinology, Metabolic Regulation, Regulation of Gene Expression, Signal Transduction

Disease Research Interests

Cancer, Drug Discovery


2002 B.Sc. in Zoology, University of Calgary, Canada
2008 Ph.D. in Comparative Endocrinology, University of Calgary, Canada
2008-2014 Postdoctoral Associate, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC.

Teaching Interests

Endocrine and Metabolic Control of Breast and Ovarian Cancer Pathophysiology

Patients with metastatic breast and ovarian cancer continue to have a very poor prognosis. The magnitude of this problem provides a strong impetus for studies that may lead to new chemopreventative strategies and/or lifestyle changes that reduce morbidity from these cancers. Therefore, the goal of our research is to elucidate the effects of the endocrine system and metabolism on breast and ovarian cancer initiation and progression. We integrate our expertise in physiology, endocrinology, immunology and in vivo models to pursue translational breast and ovarian cancer research.

Several studies have demonstrated correlations between obesity and poor prognosis for patients with cancers of the breast or ovary. Interestingly, it has also been observed that elevated cholesterol itself is a poor prognostic for these cancers, independent of body mass index. This puts into perspective the recent finding that a primary metabolite of cholesterol, 27-hydroxycholesterol, has the ability to activate the estrogen receptor. and the Liver X Receptors (LXRs). Using several cellular and animal models, we have now shown that the 27-hydroxychoelsterol axis appears to play important roles in regulating the immune system, resulting in increased tumor progression. Our studies will likely provide novel therapeutic options for breast and ovarian cancer patients.

The major focuses of the lab are:

Establishing 27-hydroxycholesterol as a causal link between obesity, hypercholesterolemia and breast cancer metastasis.

Defining the mechanisms by which 27-hydroxychoelsterol increases metastasis.

Determining the impact of cholesterol and its metabolites on ovarian cancer progression.

Delineating the role of nuclear receptor signaling within the tumor microenvironment and its impact on tumor progression.

Cholesterol metabolism and homeostasis in immune cells.


2020 Named the 2020-2021 I.C. Gunsalus Scholar at the University of Illinois

2020 List of Teachers Ranked Excellent By Their Students

2018 List of Teachers Ranked Excellent By Their Students

2017 List of Teachers Ranked Excellent By Their Students

2016 List of Teachers Ranked Excellent By Their Students

2013 National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award.

2013 Robert J. Fitzgerald Academic Achievement Award. Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, Duke University School of Medicine.

2012 The Endocrine Society Award for Outstanding Paper in Endocrinology for 2011.

2011 Robert J. Fitzgerald Scholar Award: Outstanding publication in the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, Duke University Medical Center.

2009 Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program Postdoctoral Fellowship Award.

2008 Government of Alberta Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship.

Representative Publications

Complete Publication List

Google Scholar Profile

He S., Ma L., Baek A.E., Vardanyan A., Vembar V., Chen J.J., Nelson A.T., Burdette J.E., and Nelson E.R. (2019). Host CYP27A1 expression is essential for ovarian cancer progression. Endocrine Related Cancer , 26(7):659-675. Link to Paper

Shahoei, S.H., Kim, Y.C., Cler, S., Ma, L., Anakk, S., Kemper J.K. and Nelson E.R. (2019). Small Heterodimer Partner regulates dichotomous T cell expansion by macrophages. Accepted, Endocrinology. Link to Paper

Shahoei S.H., and Nelson E.R. (2019). Nuclear Receptors, Cholesterol Homeostasis and the Immune System. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 191:105364-105364. Link to Paper

Ma, L., and Nelson E.R. (2019). Oxysterols and Nuclear Receptors. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology.15; 484:42-51. Link to Paper

Baek A.E., Yu Y.R., He S., Wardell S.E., Chang C.Y., Kwon S., Pillai R.V., Thompson W., Dubois L.G., Sullivan P.M., Kemper J.K., Gunn M.D., McDonnell D.P., and Nelson E.R. (2017). The cholesterol metabolite 27-hydroxycholesterol facilitates breast cancer metastasis through its actions on immune cells. Nature Communications, 8(1):864. PMCID: PMC5636879 Link to Paper

He, S. and Nelson E.R. (2017). 27-Hydroxycholesterol, an endogenous selective estrogen receptor modulator. Maturitas. 104: 29-35. PMID: 28923174. Link to Paper

Nelson E.R., Wardell S.E., Jasper J.S., Park S., Suchindran S., Howe M.K.,Carver N.J., Pillai R.V., Sullivan P.M., Sondhi V., Umetani M., Geradts J., and McDonnell D.P. (2013). 27-Hydroxycholesterol Links Hypercholesterolemia and Breast Cancer Pathophysiology. Science. 342(6162):1094-8. PMID: 24288332. Link to Paper

Nelson E.R., DuSell C.D., Wang X., Howe M.K., Evans G., Michalek R.D., Rathmell J.C., Khosla S., Gesty-Palmer D., and McDonnell D.P. (2011). The oxysterol, 27-hydroxycholesterol, links cholesterol metabolism to bone homeostasis through its actions on the estrogen and liver X receptors. Endocrinology. 152(12): 4691-705. PMCID: PMC3230052.

Michalek R.D., Gerriets V.A., Nichols A.G., Inoue M., Kazmin D., Chang C-Y, Dwyer M., Nelson E.R., Pollizzi K.N., Ilkayeva O., Giguere V., Zuercher W.J., Powell J.D., Shinohara M.L., McDonnell D.P., Rathmell J.C. (2011). Estrogen Related Receptor-α is a Metabolic Regulator of Effector T cell Activation and Differentiation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 108(45): 18348-53. PMCID: PMC3215012

DuSell C.D., Nelson E.R., Wang X., Abdo J., Mödder U.L., Umetani M., Gesty-Palmer D., Javitt N.B., Khosla S., McDonnell D.P. (2010). The Endogenous Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulator 27-hydroxycholesterol is a Negative Regulator of Bone Homeostasis. Endocrinology. 151(8): 3675-85. PMCID: PMC2940523

DuSell C.D., Nelson E.R., Wittmann B.M., Fretz J.A., Kazmin D., Thomas R.S., J. Pike W., and McDonnell D.P. (2010). Regulation of aryl hydrocarbon receptor function by Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators. Molecular Endocrinology. 24(1): 33-46. PMCID: PMC2802893

Complete Publications List