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Early development of the nervous system

Our main research focus is the development of the nervous system, in particular signaling molecules and their mechanisms of action involved in early specification, patterning and function of specific neural regions.

Head of project

Current projects

At present my research group is interested in four major projects using a range if model systems.

1) Non-visual opsin related projects:

Opsins are G-coupled receptors that detect light by transforming the energy of a photon into a cellular response. Non-visual opsins, not directly involved in visual perception, are also expressed outside the retina. We are interested to unravel their function in the nervous system, in particular the brain and non-retinal eye structures.

2) Eye related projects:

The lens and the retina are two important structures within the eye. One interesting aspect of the lens is that stem cells in the lens epithelium proliferate throughout life and give rise to new mature lens fibre cells. The light- and color- sensory cells are found in the retina. We are identifying the molecular actions of different signaling molecules regulating the early induction of lens fiber cells and retina cells, and how these two structures affect the development of each other. Specific projects related to eye diseases, such as cataract, anolphthalmia and glaucoma are also ongoing.

3) Olfactory related projects:

The first post-mitotic neurons in the olfactory epithelium will leave the epithelium by an EMT-like process and migrate towards the forebrain. We are interested to understand how the molecular mechanisms that regulate this event, and what function the migratory olfactory neurons have.
In the adult mammalian head region there are three regions where neurogenesis normally occurs; in which the olfactory epithelium (giving rise to olfactory receptor neurons) is one of the regions. Currently there is a lack of knowledge of the combination and sequence of molecular signals necessary to induce endogenous precursors to efficiently and precisely proliferate and differentiate into appropriate types of neurons within these regions. Using both gain and loss of function approaches in the olfactory epithelium, we aim to unravel the molecular mechanisms regulating the progression from progenitor cells to differentiated neurons.

4) Cancer related projects:

We are in the process of developing different delamination/metastatic assays to measure metastatic capacity of cancer cells. These models will also be used in gain and loss of function experiments to determine molecular mechanisms regulating EMT related processes like delamination, invasion and miro-metastasis formation. We are using a range of different human cancer cell lines, such as glioblastoma, lung, colon, prostate and breast cancer cell lines.


If you are interested to work with us as a graduate student (exam-work), Ph.D-student Post-Doc or as a 1st Research Engineer please contact me, Lena Gunhaga at