Research Division of Molecular Neurobiology

The division of Molecular Neurobiology develops new technologies and takes advantage of recent advances in molecular biology to further the understanding of the relation between molecular phenotype, anatomy and function of cell types in development, health and disease of the nervous system.

Research interests

The nervous system is one of the most complex organs in the human body, formed by multiple cell types with unique properties. Researchers at the division of Molecular Neurobiology study how the cellular diversity in the nervous system is generated, starting from stem cells until different types of neurons and glial cells emerge. We also study how neurons form connections and establish the networks that are the basis of the complex functions controlled by the nervous system. Defining cell types, determining their physiological and morphological properties and establishing how they contribute to circuits and behaviour is a major theme of the division. We take advantage of advanced technologies including for example stem cells, cellular reprogramming, mouse genetics, animal behaviour, electrophysiology, single cell RNA sequencing, smFISH, imaging, biochemistry, advanced molecular biology and more.

Research groups

Patrik Ernfors Group
Neuronal types and circuits sensing pain, temperature and touch. CNS stem-like cells in health and disease.

Ernest Arenas Group
Midbrain development with focus on dopaminergic neurons. Stem cells and reprogramming strategies for modeling and treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

Per Uhlén Group
Impact of normal and abnormal cell signalling on development and cancer.

Sten Linnarsson Group
Systematic discovery of lineages and cell types in the brain by single-cell RNA-seq. Spatial atlas of cell types and states by single-molecule RNA FISH and RNA tomography.

Jens Hjerling-Leffler Group
Neuronal identity in the forebrain –function and stability. Adolescent brain development and Schizophrenia.

Gonçalo Castelo-Branco Group
Epigenetic regulation of cell states, with a focus on oligodendrocyte lineage cells during development and in multiple sclerosis.

Ulrika Marklund Group
Neuronal Diversification during Enteric Nervous System Development.

History of the division

The Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology was founded in the fall of 1987 by the late Håkan Persson. At that time, Håkan moved from the Biomedical Center in Uppsala to the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm to take over a newly created professorship at the then Department of Medical Chemistry, today called Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics. Together with Håkan, came one post doc and three students. In a short period, more students and post docs joined the group, which after six months had a dozen members. Right from its first days, the laboratory was characterised by an almost round the clock flurry of activity, with researchers running up and down a small corridor crowded with equipment, bookshelves and other assorted items. Much of the style of the laboratory was imposed by Håkan's energetic, impulsive and informal character, an unusual sight in the Institute. The same atmosphere continues today with the laboratory's more than 25 members.

One of the research projects during the first days of the laboratory was the study of interactions between the nervous and immune systems; in fact some of Håkan's early work pioneered the then newborn field of neuroimmunology. These projects addressed potential roles of known molecular markers from both systems in mediating exchanges of information between the brain and the immune organs. The group also began a search for novel molecules shared by the nervous and immune systems applying differential cloning techniques. Another area of research developing at the laboratory in those days involved expression studies of neurotrophic factors and their receptors, primarily nerve growth factor (NGF) and its at that time only known receptor, p75. This project was to grow into one of the most important areas of research at the laboratory, which continues today, and for which the laboratory is perhaps best internationally known.

The first generation of students that graduated at the laboratory, Anders Ericsson, Finn Hallböök, Patrik Ernfors, Stefan Brené and Gisela Barbany, today occupy independent positions at different research institutions in Sweden and in the United States. Patrik Ernfors returned to the laboratory in the fall of 1994 after a two-year post doc at the Whitehead Institute, and is currently professor leading a group of twelve researchers. The first generation of post docs of the laboratory included Wilma Friedman, Mei Ooi, Nils Lindefors, Carlos Ibáñez and Madis Metsis. Carlos Ibáñez took over the organisational and administrative responsibilities at the laboratory after Håkan Persson's sudden death in the spring of 1993. He is currently a full professor at the Department of Neuroscience, and leads a group of fifteen researchers. The third group leader of the unit, Ernest Arenas, is currently Professor in stem cell neurobiology and leads a group of twelve researchers. Madis Metsis remained at the laboratory until 2002; he is currently an associate professor at the Center for Genomic Research, and leads a group of two researchers.

Although neurotrophic factors and receptors are still central to much of the research activities of the laboratory, the different research projects over a great variety of techniques and approaches from structural biology to brain surgery, from gene regulation to mouse genetics. Areas of research activity currently include studies of structure-function relationships of neurotrophic factors and receptors, evolutionary studies of neurotrophic molecules, regulation of genes coding for neurotransmitter synthesising enzymes and neurotrophic factors and their receptors, signal transduction in neuronal cells, nervous system development, gene transfer of neurotrophic molecules, neuronal degeneration and brain repair. The list of publications with main authorship at the laboratory presently contains over one hundred original articles and reviews.


Head of Division, Professor

Patrik Ernfors

Phone: +46-(0)8-524 876 59
Organizational unit: Patrik Ernfors group

Visiting address

Division of Molecular Neurobiology

Scheeles väg 1

171 77 Stockholm