Mertens Lab

Neural Aging Laboratory

Institute of Molecular Biology

University of Innsbruck

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OUR RESEARCH

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In the Neural Aging Lab, we reprogram human skin cells into brain cells to better understand age-related diseases. We apply both directly induced neurons (iNs) and induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technologies to develop and learn from the next generation of human disease models.

 

"Patient-derived models for the human brain are both fascinating and useful. Because they are centered around the actual patient, they can teach us about human diseases of the brain."

 

By combining our patient-centric approach with cellular neuroscience techniques and a passion for big data biology, the goal of our lab is to identify the molecular key players of human biological aging to point toward  new treatment strategies for neurological age-related neurodegenerative diseases.

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OUR TEAM

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JEROME MERTENS

Jerome is Assistant Professor at the University of Innsbruck in Tyrol, Austria, and Staff Scientist at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA. His research focus is to better understand the interface between the biology of aging and neurodegeneration. His patient-centric approach combines human cell reprogramming technologies such as iPSC differentiation, direct neuronal conversion (iN), and 3D culture models with unbiased multi-omics technologies and functional neuroscience. Jerome completed his PhD in the lab of Oliver Brüstle (University of Bonn) and Philipp Koch, and his postdoc in Rusty Gage’s lab.

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Larissa is the first home-grown postdoc in Jerome's lab, and her focus is on metabolic alterations in Alzheimer’s Disease. She received her BSc in Molecular Medicine from the Medical University of Innsbruck and her MSc in Biomedicine from Lund University in Sweden. She is currently a student enrolled with the SPIN doctoral school, actively collaborates with Angelo D'Alessandro's lab at UC Denver, and enjoys frequent research stays at the Salk Institute. In her free time, Larissa loves to spend her time outdoors in the mountains, going for hikes or paragliding, and enjoying a good beer.

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SILVIA PELUCCHI

Silvia is the only postdoctoral fellow in Jerome's lab. She obtained her PhD in Pharmacological Experimental and Clinical Sciences at the University of Milan, investigating the connection between the alpha secretase ADAM10 and the synaptic structural plasticity in Alzheimer's disease. She going the lab in Innsbruck to obtain new perspectives, and to learn human cell reprogramming technologies, such as iPSC differentiation and iN. Silvia enjoys a lot to get lost in the nature by herself, but mostly she loves to share good food and good wine with friends.

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FLORIAN SCHOEN

Flo studies molecular biology at the University of Innsbruck and he is our lab manager. He received his BSc in Biology at the University of Innsbruck. Flo is also a certified locksmith and police officer. After completion of his MSc, he is interested in specializing deeper into human biology, with a special interest in neuroscience.

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LUCIA ZHOU-YANG

Lucy earned her BSc in Health Biology and MSc in Biomedicine at Autónoma University Madrid. Her research in Madrid focussed on gene therapy using iPSC lung organoids, and iPSC modeling in Jun Yao's lab at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Lucy is interested in integrating fate reprogramming technologies with 3D cultures, and age-related diseases. She's always happy, smiley, loves socializing, and always open for any kind of group activities. 

 ♪♪ Dale a tu cuerpo alegría Macarena

Que tu cuerpo es pa' darle alegría why cosa buena

Dale a tu cuerpo alegría, Macarena

Hey Macarena!!!!! ♫♫

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SOPHIE EICHHORNER

Sophie did her BSc in Biology and is currently studying Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Innsbruck. She is especially interested in neuroscience and aging. In her free time she enjoys horseback riding, reading and the occasional hike.

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OLIVER BORGOGNO

Oli received his BSc. in Biology and is now studying Molecular Biology at the University of Innsbruck. His study focuses on the influence of psychiatric disorders on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, he uses a hybrid approach consisting of a broad variety of different cell-culture techniques coupled with the subsequent bioinformatic  analysis.
In his free time Oliver loves to boulder in- and outdoor as well as going on trail runs in the mountains. Since he is a nerd, special  interests of him are computers and 3D-printers.

As soon as he finishes his Master, Oliver wants to dig deeper into the possibilities Big Data Biology offer with

a particular focus on Neuroscience and Aging.

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Lena is a PhD student enrolled in the doctoral AGE_REG PhD program. Lena received her BSc in Molecular Medicine from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and her MSc in Molecular Sciences from the University of Lübeck in Germany. Before coming to Innsbruck, she joined Jerome for several research stays at the Salk Institute and worked at the drug discovery alliance and development partnership company Evotec.

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JESSICA LAGERWALL

Jessica’s passion lies in investigating the underlying mechanisms of disrupted systems that lead to age-related diseases and disorders of the CNS. With a background in neuropsychiatric genetics (MSc in Genetics from Stellenbosch University), she is particularly interested in using an integrated approach to explore the genetic and physiological underpinnings of these diseases. As a  South African native, Jessica is still acclimatising to the sub-zero temperatures, but is very happy to have recently joined the Neural Aging team in Innsbruck. She intends to take advantage of the winter and summer sports, Wiener schnitzels and apfelstrudel, and the incredible scenery Innsbruck has to offer!

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STINA LAGERSTRÖM

Stina joined the lab in November 2021 on an Erasmus scholarship to perform her Master's thesis project. She received a BSc in Biomedicine and studies a MSc in Biomedicine at Lund University, Sweden. Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, is her main scientific interest and she is particulary interested in studying these using induced neurons as a model. During her time in Innsbruck, she is excited to explore the extraordinary surroundings by skiing and hiking and she enjoys dinners and "fika" with friends.

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ANNA SMALING

Anna is a MSc student in the lab doing research about metabolism in AD patient derived iNs for her Master’s thesis. She enjoys the diversity of her work: the serenity of tissue culture, the challenge of cloning shRNA inserts into backbones, analyzing and interpreting data she created and learning the theory behind the practical tasks. While she is German, she has lived in Maastricht, the Netherlands, for 6 years. There, she obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and is currently finishing her research Master in fundamental Neuroscience and is supported by an Erasmus fellowship. She plans to continue her scientific journey, studying AD and neurodegeneration in patient-derived models. When she’s not at the lab, Anna can be found somewhere in the mountains or making music. 

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TIMON STEIN

Timon is a BSc student in the lab working with Jessica on the comparison of adult and fetal neuronal models with ontogenetic tools. 

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LORE HELLEMANS

Lore is a BSc student in the lab working with Silvia and Phil on nuclear pore proteins in tauopathies

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REBECCA BAUN

Rebecca is a BSc student working on a theroretical BSc thesis with Lena. Her background is in psychology and biology, and she is interested in the clinical and molecular relationship  between psychiatric and age-related disorders of the brain. 

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ANNA DENGLER

Anna studies Molecular Cell and Development Biology at the University of Innsbruck. Currently she is performing a lab rotation project study in the lab, during which she is helping Silvia to analyze localizations between proteins in old neurons. In her free time she loves to do different kind of sports and enjoy to have a good time with her friends.

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JOSEPH R. HERDY

Joe is PhD student in the Neuroscience graduate program at UC San Diego and a joint member of Mertens lab and the Gage lab at the Salk Institute. Joe received his BSc from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and his MSc from the University of Kentucky. Joe's research focuses on the induction of neuronal senescence during aging and neurodegenerative disease. Outside of the lab, Joe enjoys hiking, fishing, rock climbing and any other excuse to spend time outdoors.

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RAVI AGARWAL

Ravi is a medical student at UC San Diego and a part-time research assistant working jointly between the Mertens Lab and the Gage Lab at the Salk Institute. He primarily works with Joe and assists coordinating research efforts between the two labs. Ravi is highly interested in pursuing a career in either neurology or neurosurgery, both of which would allow him to continue collaborating and conducting neuroscience research and helping patients with neurological ailments. Beyond his medical education and research, Ravi loves to read and spend time outdoors gardening, swimming in the ocean, skiing and traveling the world!

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DANIELA FRANTAL

Dani is Research Assistant in the lab, with a distinct focus on everything ;) She likes tissue culture, and the FACS Melody is her best friend. She is also a skilled lentivirus and sequencing library producer, and supports the whole team. Dani received her BSc in Biology from the University of Innsbruck, and currently finishes her MSc in Ecology and Biodiversity at the University of Innsbruck with a focus on Limnology at Lake Mondsee. Besides her work as a lab technician, Dani enjoys time during mountain biking, paragliding ski touring and gardening.

 

Dani just had a new addition to the family and is currently taking a break from work. We hope she will be back soon :)

ALUMNI

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PHILIPP BOUSSARD

MSc student 2020/2021

-> Humanmedizin, Uni Heidelberg

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BELLA ROHWEDER

 BSc student 2021

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LUKAS KARBACHER

MSc student

-> Research Assistant, Salk Institute

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LEA NAGELSCHMIED

BSc intern 2021

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JANINA KASPAR

MSc ERASMUS student 2020

-> MSc at University of Heidelberg (Moritz Mall lab)

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ALICE SANTAGOSTINO

BSc student 2020

-> MSc at University of Innsbruck

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TIM CIESIOLKA

BSc student 2019-2020

->  Roche Diagnostics

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MATILDE IRACI

MSc student 2020/2021

-> PhD student, Helmholtz Munich

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ISABELLA ANGELI

BSc student 2021

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JENNY BALTAZAR

MSc intern 2021

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ALICE FOLTYNOVA

Post-MSC intern 2021/2022

-> Uni Prague, CZ

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FLORA KOGLER

BSc student 2020

-> BSc at University of Innsbruck

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LUKAS C. MAASS

BSc student 2019

->  Roche Diagnostics

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SANTIAGO ARDILES

Lab intern 2018-2019

-> MSc at Medical University Innsbruck

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PUBLICATIONS

‘Age-dependent instability of mature neuronal fate in induced neurons from Alzheimer’s patients’
J. Mertens#, J.R. Herdy*, L. Traxler*, S.T. Schafer, J.C.M. Schlachetzki, L. Böhnke,  
D.A. Reid, H. Lee, D. Zangwill,

D.P. Fernandes, R.K. Agarwal, R. Lucciola,  L. Zhou-Yang, L. Karbacher, F. Edenhofer, S. Stern, S. Horvath, A.C.M. Paquola,

C.K. Glass, S.H. Yuan, M. Ku, A. Szücs, L.S.B. Goldstein, D. Galasko, and F.H. Gage#
Cell Stem Cell, Apr 2021

 

'Metabolism navigates neural cell fate in development, aging and neurodegeneration'

L. Traxler, J. Lagerwall, S. Eichhorner, D. Stefanoni, A. D'Alessandro, and J. Mertens

Disease Models and Mechanisms, 2021

'Improved Method for Efficient Generation of Functional Neurons from Murine Neural Progenitor Cells' 

A. Soni, D. Klütsch, X. Hu, J. Houtman, N. Rund, A. McCloskey, J. Mertens, S. T. Schafer, H. Amin, T. Toda

Cells, 2021

'Direct Conversion of Human Fibroblasts to Induced Neurons'
L. Zhou-Yang, S. Eichhorner, L. Karbacher, L. Böhnke, L. Traxler, and J. Mertens
Neural Reprogramming: Methods and Protocols, 2021

 

'One Big Step to a Neuron, Two Small Steps for miRNAs’

J. R. Herdy, L. Karbacher and J. Mertens#.

Cell Stem CellJan 2021

 

'When function follows form:  Nuclear compartment structure and the T epigenetic landscape of the aging neuron

J.C.M. Schlachetzki, T. Toda# and J. Mertens#.

Experimental Gerontology, Feb 2020

'Next‐generation disease modeling with direct conversion: a new path to old neurons’

L. Traxler, F. Edenhofer, and J. Mertens.

FEBS letters, Dec 2019

‘Take the shortcut–direct conversion of somatic cells into induced neural stem cells and their biomedical applications’

A. Erharter, S. Rizzi, J. Mertens, and F. Edenhofer.

FEBS letters, Dec 2019

‘Chemical modulation of transcriptionally enriched signaling pathways to optimize the conversion of fibroblasts into neurons’

J. R. Herdy,  S.T. Schafer, Y. Kim, Z. Ansari, D. Zangwill, M. Ku, A.C.M. Paquola, H. Lee, J. Mertens#, and F.H. Gage#.

eLife, May 2019

‘Human neurons to model aging: A dish best served old‘

L. Böhnke, L. Traxler, J. R. Herdy, and J. Mertens.

Drug Discovery Today: Disease Models, Feb 2019

 

‘Pathological priming causes developmental gene network heterochronicity in autistic subject-derived neurons‘

S.T. Schafer, A.C.M. Paquola, S. Stern, D. Gosselin, M. Ku, M. Pena, T.J.M.  Kuret, M. Liyanage, A.A. Mansour, B.N. Jaeger, M.C. Marchetto, C.K. Glass, J. Mertens, and F.H. Gage.

Nature Neuroscience, Jan 2019

 

‘Aging in a dish: iPSC-derived and directly induced neurons for studying brain aging and age-related neurodegenerative diseases'

J. Mertens, D. Reid, S. Lau, Y. Kim, and F. H. Gage.

Annual Reviews Genetics , Sep 2018

 

‘Mitochondrial aging defects emerge in directly reprogrammed human neurons due to their metabolic profile ‘

Y. Kim, X. Zheng, Z. Ansari, M.C. Bunnell, J.R. Herdy, L. Traxler, H. Lee, A.C.M. Paquola, C. Blithikioti, M. Ku, J.C.M. Schlachetzki, J. Winkler, F. Edenhofer, C.K. Glass, A.A. Paucar, B.N. Jaeger, S. Pham, L. Boyer, B.C. Campbell, T. Hunter, J. Mertens#, F.H. Gage#.

Cell Reports, May 2018