Rochester, Minnesota




Rebecca S. Bahn, M.D., studies the causes of Graves' ophthalmopathy (GO), Graves' hyperthyroidism and other autoimmune thyroid diseases. The long-term goal of her laboratory team is to develop effective new therapies for the treatment and prevention of these conditions.

Dr. Bahn's laboratory is interested in the mechanisms and consequences of immune system activation of fibroblasts from behind the eye, the target cells involved in GO. Her team is studying the unique features of these cells that render them particularly susceptible to autoimmune attack. Studies are under way to understand interactions between these cells and antibodies that target the thyroid-stimulating hormone receptor (TSHR) found on these cells.

Dr. Bahn's research is funded by the National Institutes of Health and Mayo Clinic.

Focus areas

  • What causes GO, the eye condition found in patients with Graves' disease? Antibodies targeting the TSHR are found in the blood of patients with Graves' disease and GO. These antibodies attach to this receptor found on thyroid cells and stimulate the cells to secrete too much thyroid hormone, a condition called hyperthyroidism. These same antibodies target TSHR on fibroblasts behind the eye and cause them to turn into fat cells and produce hyaluronic acid, a substance found in abundance in the orbits of patients with GO. The changes in the tissues behind the eye result in the clinical features of GO including forward protrusion of the eyeball, enlargement of the eye muscles, and swelling of the eyelids and tissues.
  • What new therapies are being developed to treat Graves' hyperthyroidism and GO? Dr. Bahn's laboratory team is studying a novel small molecule that attaches to the TSHR receptor on thyroid cells and also on fibroblasts from behind the eye. This turns off the receptor and prevents TSHR autoantibodies from affecting these cells. In the future, clinical trials will be performed to determine whether these small molecules might be used as therapy for Graves' hyperthyroidism and Graves' ophthalmopathy.

Significance to patient care

Dr. Bahn's research into the causes of GO and Graves' hyperthyroidism has led to a clinical trial of rituximab as a new therapy for GO. If this medication is proven effective in the treatment of Graves' ophthalmopathy, it will likely become a mainstay of therapy for this difficult-to-treat condition. In the future, new insight into the cause of these conditions will aid in the development of other new approaches to therapy.

Professional highlights

  • President, American Thyroid Association, 2007-2008
  • Director, Women's Health Research Center, Mayo Clinic, 2012-present
  • Associate Dean of Research for Career Development, Mayo Clinic, 2006-present
  • Distinguished Service Award, American Thyroid Association, 2011
  • Outstanding Mentor Award, Center for Translational Science Activities, Mayo Clinic, 2010


Administrative Appointment

  1. Emeritus, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, Metabolism, Nutrition, Department of Internal Medicine

Academic Rank

  1. Professor of Medicine


  1. Trainee - Immunology/Endocrinology Mayo Graduate School of Medicine, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine
  2. Fellow - Immunology/Endocrinology Mayo Graduate School of Medicine, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine
  3. Trainee - Endocrinology Mayo Graduate School of Medicine, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine
  4. Resident - Internal Medicine Mayo Graduate School of Medicine, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine
  5. MD Mayo Medical School, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine
  6. MS - Anatomy University of Louisville
  7. BA - Premed University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

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