About us - Developmental and Translational Neurobiology

Our research program seeks to characterize how the environment impacts human brain development, and how prenatal exposures can shape mental health outcomes.

Image Description: Cerebral organoids displaying three-dimensional ventricle organization.
Cerebral organoids displaying three-dimensional ventricle organization. Photo: Anthi C. Krontira

Our research

Mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression, represent a major burden on both individuals and public health systems. This prevalence has been increasing disproportionately in women of reproductive age given stressors like the global pandemic in 2020. Exposure to stress during early life, including the prenatal period via the mother’s mental state, is among the most common risk predictors of child mental illness later in life. Many behavioral dysfunctions and long-term vulnerabilities in children are associated with maternal prenatal exposures like stress hormones to psychotropic drug treatment for associated mental illnesses. Unfortunately, we have very little knowledge of the molecular and cellular mechanisms that mediate the transmission of these environmental agents from mother to baby and how these lead to negative mental health outcomes in the next generation.

Our research program seeks to characterize how the environment impacts human brain development, and how prenatal exposures can shape mental health outcomes. Research projects are aimed at answering the following questions: (A) What molecular factors shape human brain development in the womb, leading to life-long disease risk or resilience? (B) How do specialized cells and tissues react to these exposures to shape system-wide child health outcomes?

We model these human-specific exposures in complex model systems of the developing human brain (cerebral organoids), and investigate mechanisms of cell- and tissue-specific responses using state-of-art molecular and cellular biology technologies.  With this work we hope to improve our understanding of these prenatal exposures and inform treatment decisions for stress-related disorders among pregnant women with evidence about the likely outcomes in their developing children. This is especially important during the unique prenatal period when vulnerability is high and the impact deals with two lives.

Collaborations

We currently collaborate with research groups in Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Sweden and the United States. We are always open to establishing new collaborations. Please reach out at: cristiana.cruceanu@ki.se.

Research group leader

Cristiana Cruceanu

Assistant professor

Work with us!

We are looking for motivated and creative individuals who are curious about human neurodevelopment, environmental exposure and psychiatric risk. Experience in microscopy, in vitro cell culture systems, single-cell and bulk transcriptomics and epigenomics, and bioinformatics is highly applicable. For more information about ongoing projects please see our research.

If you are interested in our research and would like to join the lab at the MSc, PhD or postdoc level, please send an email to: cristiana.cruceanu@ki.se.