In Memoriam

Don Gilden, MD

Louise Baum Endowed Chair and Professor
Department of Neurology

Donald Gilden, MD
Louise Baum Endowed Chair and Professor

Department of Neurology
University of Colorado
School of Medicine

Dr. Donald Gilden received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.D. from the University of Maryland, and completed his Neurology residency at the University of Chicago and his postdoctoral fellowship in Neurovirology at Johns Hopkins. He was Professor of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania and the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia before moving to Colorado. Don was the second and longest serving Chairman of the Department of Neurology, holding the position with distinction for over 24 years (1985-2009). He was a superb clinician, outstanding teacher, and performed seminal work on many aspects of viral diseases of the central nervous system.

Dr. Gilden was best known for his classic studies on varicella zoster virus (VZV). He was the first to establish that VZV DNA could be found in normal human ganglia, work that was accomplished before PCR amplification of viral DNA was developed. Studies from his laboratory on the physical state of viral nucleic acid and gene expression in 6,000 latently infected human ganglia from more than 700 randomly autopsied subjects have produced several milestones, including: the first detection of the entire viral genome in human ganglia along the entire neuraxis; the first demonstration of the circular configuration and association of latent VZV DNA with histones; the first demonstration of its highly variable abundance; the first identification of five VZV transcripts during latency; and one of two demonstrations that VZV is latent exclusively in neurons of human ganglia.

Dr. Gilden identified zoster sine herpete (shingles pain without rash) as a true disease. He also discovered that VZV "encephalitis" is actually a vasculopathy with virus production primarily in cerebral arteries rather than brain parenchyma. He showed that the detection of anti-VZV IgG in the CSF is a significantly more sensitive indicator of VZV vasculopathy than detection of VZV DNA by PCR. He further demonstrated that VZV vasculopathy and VZV infection of the spinal cord, including recurrent myelitis, can manifest without rash.

Dr. Gilden developed an outstanding research team that extended and expanded on his work and made important contributions on their own. His trainees identified clonally expanded plasma cells in the brain and CSF of patients with MS and SSPE. Using single-cell RT-PCR, the Gilden laboratory identified over-represented heavy- and light-chain immunoglobulin sequences which have been used to produce recombinant monoclonal antibodies. In SSPE, such antibodies produced from brain or CSF were directed against measles virus, the cause of disease. Parallel studies in MS have identified clonal populations of plasma cells that are antigen-driven. These MS antibodies have not yet identified an antigen unique to MS, but are not directed against normal or diseased brain white matter, or any white matter proteins (MBP, PLP, MOG and MAG).

Dr. Gilden was awarded the Outstanding Teaching Award given by Neurology residents four times, a Department record for outstanding teaching that has not been equaled. He received the Alumni Award for Distinguished Service from the University of Chicago School of Medicine, was elected to the Association of American Physicians, Fellowship in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and to the Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars.

For his outstanding clinical and scientific contributions, Dr. Gilden received the 2007 Pioneer Award of the International Society for Neurovirology. In 2008, Dr. Gilden received the 2008 Honor Award and Gold Key for outstanding contributions to medicine and distinguished service to mankind from the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Dr. Gilden was the author of over 400 peer-reviewed papers, reviews and book chapters. He had a continuous record of research funding from the NIH that continued up to his death, and will be ably continued by his colleagues and trainees.

With Dr. Gilden’s passing, the field of Neurology has lost one of its true leaders. The University of Colorado School of Medicine and Department of Neurology have also lost an extraordinary leader -one of the last of the true “triple threats”- an individual who excelled as a teacher, a clinician, and a scientist. ■

Denver Post Announcement


From: David Vu

So sad to hear it. You will be missed.

Posted at 2016-08-23 11:00:29am

From: Ken and Lisa Tyler

Don was a towering figure in Neurology and responsible for recruiting me to Colorado. I'll miss him greatly- as will his many students, menses, friends, and colleagues.

Posted at 2016-08-23 02:12:42pm

From: Ian Lipkin

A brilliant physician-scientist and an even better friend. I will miss him dearly. ian

Posted at 2016-08-23 02:32:13pm

From: Tamara Goldstein

Thank you for sharing the sad news.

Posted at 2016-08-26 01:40:17pm

From: Rock Levinson, Dept. Physiology

Don Gilden was one of a "new breed" of clinical chairs who made great efforts to establish strong basic and clinical science programs in their departments. He was incredibly supportive of young investigators and encouraged close, productive interactions between his clinical faculty and those in the basic sciences. Thus Don motivated important changes in the direction of my own research by creating opportunities to collaborate with his faculty. I'll miss his undying enthusiasm and interest in my work.

Posted at 2016-09-21 12:01:32pm