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Lena Gunhaga

Professor in Developmental Biology.

The interest of my research group concerns the development of the nervous system, with focus on the brain and sensory systems.



Works at

Professor at Department of Medical and Translational Biology Section: Section for Molecular Medicine
hus H, Johan Bures väg 12, Biologihuset Umeå universitet, 901 87 Umeå

Our main research focus is to understand molecular mechanisms that regulate the development and function of the nervous system, with focus on the brain and sensory systems.


Current projects

At present my research group is interested in four major neural focused projects, and a fifth parallel cancer related project, 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 image formation, are also expressed outside the retina. We are interested to unravel their function in the nervous system, in particular the brain, olfactory and non-retinal eye structures.


2+3) Eye related projects:

The iris in the eye is a sphincter muscle that regulates the size of the pupil, and thereby controls the amount of incoming light in the eye. We and others have shown that light regulated mechanisms directly in the iris is responsible for a local pupillary light reflex. We are expanding our molecular knowledge regarding how the local iris pupillary light reflex is regulated.

The lens and the retina are two important structures within the eye. We are identifying the molecular actions of different signaling molecules regulating the early generation 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.


4)      Olfactory related projects:

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. We are using the olfactory epithelium as a model system to  unravel molecular mechanisms regulating the progression from progenitor cells to differentiated neurons.

Moreover, the first post-mitotic neurons in the olfactory epithelium will leave the epithelium by an EMT-like process, including delamination*, and migrate towards the forebrain. We aim to define molecular mechanisms that regulate this event, and what function the migratory olfactory neurons have.

* Delamination is a biological normal process where the basal membrane is degraded to facilitate migration of cells. The delamination process is often reactivated in cancer cells, which results in spreading of cancer cells in the body and formation of secondary tumors.


5)      Cancer related projects:

We have recently established a delamination/metastatic assay, the CAM-Delam assay, to visualize, score and quantify the ability of cancer cells to degrade the basal lamina (delamination) and migrate. This model is now used to determine molecular mechanisms regulating EMT related processes like delamination, invasion and micro-metastasis formation. We are using a range of different human cancer cell lines, such as glioblastoma, lung, colon, prostate and breast cancer cell lines, as well as human tumor samples.


For more information, please visit the homepage of Lena Gunhaga: Homepage


Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology, Elsevier 2023, Vol. 15
Karthikeyan, Ramanujam; Davies, Wayne I. L.; Gunhaga, Lena
Journal of Visualized Experiments, MyJove Corporation 2022, Vol. 2022, (184)
Panaliappan, Tamilarasan K.; Slekiene, Lina; Gunhaga, Lena
Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, Frontiers Media S.A. 2022, Vol. 10
Wang, Tianyan; Sarwar, Martuza; Whitchurch, Jonathan B.; et al.
BMC Molecular and Cell Biology, BioMed Central (BMC) 2021, Vol. 22, (1)
Dakhel, Soran; Davies, Wayne I. L.; Joseph, Justin V.; et al.
eNeuro, Society for Neuroscience 2021, Vol. 8, (5)
Davies, Wayne I. L.; Sghari, Soufien; Upton, Brian A.; et al.
Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group 2020, Vol. 10, (1)
Panaliappan, Tamilarasan K.; Slekiene, Lina; Jonasson, Anna-Karin; et al.
Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, Rockville: Association of Research in Vision and Ophthalmology 2020, Vol. 61, (11)
Sghari, Soufien; Davies, Wayne I. L.; Gunhaga, Lena
Differentiation, Elsevier 2019, Vol. 110 : 8-16
Panaliappan, Tamilarasan K.; Slekiene, Lina; Gunhaga, Lena; et al.
Development, Company of Biologists Ltd 2018, Vol. 145, (2)
Panaliappan, Tamilarasan K.; Wittmann, Walter; Jidigam, Vijay K.; et al.
Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, ASSOC RESEARCH VISION OPHTHALMOLOGY INC 2018, Vol. 59, (10) : 3869-3878
Sghari, Soufien; Gunhaga, Lena
Developmental Biology, Vol. 407, (2) : 256-264
Huang, Jie; Liu, Ying; Filas, Benjamen; et al.
Biology open, Vol. 4, (12) : 1782-1791
Jidigam, Vijay K.; Srinivasan, Raghuraman C.; Patthey, Cedric; et al.
Development, The Company of Biologists LTD 2015, Vol. 142, (10) : 1850-1859
Pandit, Tanushree; Jidigam, Vijay Kumar; Patthey, Cedric; et al.
Molecular Biology of the Cell, Vol. 25
Jidigam, Vijay; Gunhaga, Lena
Experimental Cell Research, Vol. 321, (1) : 11-16
Patthey, Cedric; Gunhaga, Lena
Developmental Biology, Vol. 388, (1) : 35-47
Wittmann, Walter; Iulianella, Angelo; Gunhaga, Lena
Developmental Neurobiology, Vol. 74, (6) : 643-656
Wittmann, Walter; Schimmang, Thomas; Gunhaga, Lena
Development, Growth and Differentiation, Vol. 55, (1) : 79-95
Jidigam, Vijay K.; Gunhaga, Lena
Molecular Vision, Vol. 18, (283-86) : 2758-2769
Jarrin, Miguel; Mansergh, Fiona C; Boulton, Michael E; et al.
Molecular Biology of the Cell, Vol. 23, (16) : 3266-3274
Jarrin, Miguel; Pandit, Tanushree; Gunhaga, Lena
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Biological Sciences, Vol. 366, (1568) : 1193-1203
Gunhaga, Lena
PloS one, Vol. 6, (2) : e17379-
Maier, Esther; Nord, Hanna; von Hofsten, Jonas; et al.
Developmental Dynamics, Vol. 240, (8) : 1917-1928
Pandit, Tanushree; Jidigam, Vijay K; Gunhaga, Lena
European Journal of Neuroscience, Malden: Wiley-Blackwell 2011, Vol. 34, (10) : 1516-1528
Patthey, Cedric; Gunhaga, Lena
Development, Vol. 137, (10) : 1601-1611
Maier, Esther; von Hofsten, Jonas; Nord, Hanna; et al.
Differentiation, Vol. 77, (4) : 386-394
Lorén, Christina E; Schrader, John W; Ahlgren, Ulf; et al.
Development, Vol. 136, (1) : 73-83
Patthey, Cédric; Edlund, Thomas; Gunhaga, Lena
PloS one, Vol. 3, (2) : e1625-
Patthey, Cédric; Gunhaga, Lena; Edlund, Thomas
Development, Vol. 131, (17) : 4323-4332
Marklund, Matthew; Sjödal, My; Beehler, Blake C; et al.
Nature Neuroscience, Vol. 6, (7) : 701-707
Gunhaga, Lena; Marklund, Matthew; Sjödal, My; et al.
Development, Vol. 127, (15) : 3283-3293
Gunhaga, Lena; Jessell, T M; Edlund, Thomas

Research groups

Head of research
Lena Gunhaga