Developmental and Translational Neurobiology – Cristiana Cruceanu's research group

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

Cruceanu Lab

Latest news

Social media

Our research

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

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 increasing stressorsfrom our modern society. 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 or pharmacologicaltreatment 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 prenatal environment impacts human brain development, ultimatelyshaping mental health outcomes. We study 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 understanding of 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.

Publications

Selected publications

Funding

Current funding

  • Karolinska Institutet Faculty Funded Assistant Professorship and starting grant
  • The Strategic Research Area Neuroscience (StratNeuro) Starting grant
  • Strategic Recruitment Grant from Karolinska Committee for Research
  • Sven and Ebba-Christina Hagberg Prize

Past Funding

  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, Canadian Institutes of Health Research
  • Individual Fellowship, Marie-Sklodowska-Curie Action
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
  • Doctoral Training Award, Canadian Institutes of Health Research
  • Doctoral Training Award, Fonds de Recherche en Santé du Québec
  • Gérard-Bouchard Scholarship, Réseau de médecine génétique appliquée
  • F.S.B. Miller Doctoral Fellowship, Faculty of Medicine McGill University
  • Alexander McFee Master’s Fellowship, Faculty of Medicine McGill University
  • Society for Biological Psychiatry
  • Boehringer Ingelheim
  • Gairdner Foundation & Genome Canada
  • Wellcome Trust Advanced Courses

Staff and contact

Group leader

All members of the group

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.

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.

Projects

Image description: Cruceanu Lab research program overview: Effects of exposure to stress hormones (blue), inflammation (red) and psychotropic treatment (pink/white/purple) in the mother are modelled in cerebral and placenta organoids to study the potentia
Cruceanu Lab research program overview: Effects of exposure to stress hormones (blue), inflammation (red) and psychotropic treatment (pink/white/purple) in the mother are modelled in cerebral and placenta organoids to study the potential effects on child prenatal neurodevelopment. Photo: Illustrator Cristiana Cruceanu, created with BioRender.

Our ongoing projects are organized in three research areas.

 

Research Area 1: Placental mediation of in utero Glucocorticoids transmission

While the importance of stress hormones (glucocorticoids) in neurodevelopment is clear, critical questions remain regarding maternal-to-fetal glucocorticoid transmission during prenatal stress, consequently leading to aberrant hormone levels in the developing brain. We aim to characterize the molecular risk factors for placental barrier aberrant function, and hypothesize that an ineffective barrier could explain the relationship between maternal depression and anxiety and negative child outcomes.

Research Area 2: Impact of psychotropic medications on prenatal brain development

During the prenatal period, maternal mental illness and associated treatment represent some of the primary environmental factors associated with fetal brain development outcomes. Despite the prevalence of these exposures, the molecular and cellular mechanisms leading to fetal outcomes constitutes a major gap in our knowledge. Our research projects aim to elucidate (1) how/if different psychotropic medications have lasting effects on brain development, potentially shaping behavioral or cognitive outcomes later in life and (2) where is the risk/benefit balance between ongoing maternal mental illness – thus chronic prenatal stress exposure – and different treatments.

Research Area 3: Maternal prenatal inflammation and negative outcomes on offspring brain development

Inflammation and immune response, including during pregnancy, is strongly linked to glucocorticoid metabolism, and consequently stress and mental illness – thus constituting a major area of potential fetal environmental exposure. The aim of this line of research is to understand (1) how maternal inflammation agents like cytokines are transmitted to the fetus directly or (2) how they orchestrate a potential fetal inflammatory response, ultimately leading to neurodevelopmental and cognitive outcomes.