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About Us

Mertens Lab

Neural Aging Laboratory

Institute of Molecular Biology

University of Innsbruck

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.

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Research

OUR RESEARCH

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

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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SILVIA PELUCCHI

Silvia is a postdoctoral fellow in Jerome's lab and is starting her own lab as a PI at the University of Milan soon. Her interest are the investigation of Alzheimer's disease and other age-related neurodegenerative disorders using iNs and fancy microscopy and muli-omic NGS approaches. Before her postdoc in Innsbruck, she obtained her PhD in Pharmacological Experimental and Clinical Sciences at the University of Milan. 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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Larissa is a postdoc in Jerome's lab, and her focus is on metabolic alterations in Alzheimer’s Disease. Her research has been supported by a L’Oréal Österreich/ÖUK/ÖAW and a Theodor Körner fellowship. Larissa received her BSc in Molecular Medicine from the Medical University of Innsbruck and her MSc in Biomedicine from Lund University in Sweden. She also 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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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 is a graduate student in the lab. She 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 is a graduate student in the lab, who already did her BSc in Biology and MSc in Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Innsbruck. She is especially interested in neuroscience and aging and developed a fascination in metabolic alterations in neurons that fall victim to age-related diseases. In her free time she enjoys horseback riding, reading and the occasional hike.

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OLIVER BORGOGNO

Oli is a graduate student in the lab. He received his BSc in Biology and his MSc in Molecular Biology at the University of Innsbruck. His study focuses on the molecular crosstalk between psychiatric disorders, accelerated aging, 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 senior graduate 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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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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ANNA SMALING

Anna is a completed her MSc in the lab and has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Maastricht, the Netherlands. Anna is now a technician in the lab, support research on metabolism in aging and neurodegeneration. When she’s not at the lab, Anna can be found somewhere in the mountains or making music. 

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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 :)

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TIMON STEIN

Timon did his BSc in the lab working with Jessica on the comparison of adult and fetal neuronal models with ontogenetic tools. He is now supporting the lab as a student research assistant.

Petrischale

LAURA WEIGL

Laura is a BSc student working on thesis on optogentic stimulation and toxicity in old human neurons.

ALUMNI

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RAVI AGARWAL

Part-time research assistant supporting the lab in San Diego since a long time :)

-> Medical School at UC San Diego 

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PHILIPP BOUSSARD

MSc student 2020/2021

-> Humanmedizin, Uni Heidelberg

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LUKAS KARBACHER

MSc student

-> Research Assistant, Salk Institute

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BELLA ROHWEDER

 BSc student 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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STINA LAGERSTRÖM

xxx

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MATILDE IRACI

MSc student 2020/2021

-> PhD student, Helmholtz Munich

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ANNA DENGLER

Lab intern 2022

MolZEB University of Innsbruck.

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ISABELLA ANGELI

BSc student 2021

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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

ALICE FOLTYNOVA

Post-MSc intern 2021/2022 -> Uni Prague, CZ

LORE HELLEMANS

BSc student 2020

LEA NAGELSCHMIED

BSc intern 2021

KATHARINA SCHULER

MSc intern 2022

JULIA-ANNA ULZ

MSc intern 2022

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Testimonials

PUBLICATIONS

’Increased Post-Mitotic Senescence in Aged Human Neurons is a Pathological Feature of Alzheimer’s Disease’

J. R. Herdy, L. Traxler, R.K. Agarwal, L. Karbacher, J.C.M. Schlachetzki, L. Boehnke, D. Zangwill, D. Galasko, C.K. Glass, J. Mertens# & F.H. Gage#. 

Cell Stem Cell, Dec 2022

‘Chemical Replacement of Noggin with Dorsomorphin Homolog 1 for Cost-Effective Direct Neuronal Conversion’

L. Böhnke, L. Zhou-Yang, S. Pelucchi, F. Kogler, D. Frantal, F. Schön, S. Lagerström, O. Borgogno, J. Baltazar, J.R. Herdy, S. Kittel-Schneider, M. Defrancesco, and J. Mertens#.

Cellular Reprogramming, Jul 2022. 

 

Warburg-like metabolic transformation underlies neuronal degeneration in sporadic Alzheimer’s disease’
L. Traxler, J.R. Herdy, D. Stefanoni, S. Eichhorner, S. Pelucchi, A. Szücs, A. Santagostino, Y. Kim, R.K. Agarwal, J.C.M. Schlachetzki, C.K. Glass, J. Lagerwall, D. Galasko, F.H. Gage, A. D’Alessandro, and J. Mertens#. .

Cell Metabolism, Aug 2022. 
 

‘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

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