Mertens Lab

Neural Aging Laboratory

Institute of Molecular Biology

University of Innsbruck



We have to account for human aging if we want to understand neurodegenerative diseases.

"We are convinced that patient-derived models are fascinating and useful tools to teach us more about complex human diseases of the brain. In the Neural Aging Lab, we reprogramming 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.


By combining basic cellular neuroscience approaches, precisely targeted cell editing, and a passion for big data biology, the goal of our lab is to identify the molecular key players of human biological aging to enable the development of new treatment strategies for age-related neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's Disease.“





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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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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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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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!


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.


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!!!!! ♫♫


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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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. 


Larissa is the first PhD student that joined 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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Phil graduated with a BSc in the Joint-Degree Molecular Biosciences from the University of Salzburg and the Johannes Kepler University Linz focusing on Biophysics, Bioinformatics and Genetics. His thesis focused on enrichment based NGS library preparation. Currently he is finalizing his master’s degree in the field of Molecular Medicine at the Medical University of Innsbruck. His thesis will focus on genome editing, employing conventional CRISPR/Cas9 and Prime Editing approaches in iPSCs.  
Originally born and raised in the German state of Saarland, he enjoys the beautiful Tyrolian landscape, being outside and working out. 


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.


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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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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Matilde is an Erasmus student working on her Master thesis. She is Italian but studied Fundamental Neuroscience at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, were she earned a BSc in Liberal Arts and Sciences and is finishing her Research Master in Clinical Neuroscience. Her project at the Mertens lab focuses on Alzheimer’s patients-derived iNs and CRISPR technology, and she would like to focus on neural stem cells in the future. In her free time, Matilde loves going for hikes and drawing the plants she sees on the way.


Bella joined the lab in November and is currently working on her bachelor's thesis, to complete her studies. Therefore she is performing lots of qPCRs and just started to get into cell culture as well. She moved to Innsbruck mainly because of the mountains and when she is not in the lab or working in a cafe, you will most likely find her just there. She's not quite sure wich path to pursue once she has finished her studies but an internship or volunteering might help her to decide.

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Easy is a BSc student working with Lena and is learning to reprogram fibroblasts into specific neuronal subtypes to investigate how psychiatric disorders affect neuronal age acceleration. In her free time she likes swimming, snowboarding, reading and playing videogames.


Lukas is finalizing his MSc program Molecular Cell and Development Biology at the University of Innsbruck. His main interests are cellular and epigenetic aging, molecular neurobiology, and bioinformatics. During his thesis, Lukas was working with C. elegans and primary human cells to better understand rates of biological aging in vivo and in vitro, and to develop a system to study and interfere with aging. Lukas is supported by a Dr. Otto Seibert Fellowship for South Tyrolean students in Innsbruck, and is currently spending several months in the Gage lab at the Salk institute in San Diego (supported by the Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation).



MSc ERASMUS student 2020

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

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BSc student 2020

-> MSc at University of Innsbruck

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BSc student 2019-2020

->  Roche Diagnostics

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BSc student 2020

-> BSc at University of Innsbruck

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BSc student 2019

->  Roche Diagnostics



Lab intern 2018-2019

-> MSc at Medical University Innsbruck

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‘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. Agarwal1, 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


'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, Methods in Molecular Biology, Book Chapter, 2021


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

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

Cell Stem Cell, (Preview), Jan 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