Morphogenesis in Development

Carl-Philipp Heisenberg

Carl-Philipp Heisenberg studies the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which vertebrate embryos take shape. To obtain insights into critical processes in vertebrate morphogenesis, such as cell adhesion, migration, and polarization, the Heisenberg group focuses on gastrulation movements in zebrafish. Gastrulation is a highly conserved morphogenetic process describing the transformation of a seemingly unstructured blastula into a highly organized gastrula-stage embryo composed of the three germ layers ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm. Zebrafish is an ideal organism to study gastrulation movements as embryos develop outside of the mother and are easily accessible for both experimental and genetic manipulations. To analyze gastrulation movements, the Heisenberg group uses a multi-disciplinary approach employing a combination of genetic, cell biological, biochemical and biophysical techniques. Utilizing these different experimental tools, they are unraveling the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying zebrafish gastrulation movements.

Carl-Philipp Heisenberg
Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria)
Am Campus 1
A – 3400 Klosterneuburg

Phone: +43 (0)2243 9000-3901

CV and publication list

Heisenberg Group website

Nicole Hotzy

Phone: +43 (0)2243 9000-1032


  • Vanessa Barone, PhD Student
  • Martin Behrndt, PhD Student
  • Pedro Campinho, PhD Student
  • Daniel Capek, PhD Student
  • Julien Compagnon, Postdoc
  • Gabby Krens, Postdoc
  • Hitoshi Morita, Postdoc
  • Kornelija Pranjic-Ferscha, Technician
  • Verena Ruprecht, Joint Postdoc with Sixt Group
  • Keisuke Sako, Postdoc
  • Philipp Schmalhorst, Postdoc
  • Mateusz Sikora, Postdoc
  • Michael Smutny, Postdoc

Current Projects

  • Cell adhesion
    The ability of cells to adhere to each other is a central feature in the development of all multi-cellular organism. We are studying the role of cell adhesion in gastrulation by a reductionist approach. We first analyze the molecular and cellular processes determining adhesion of individual primary cells taken from different parts of the gastrulating embryo with a combination of genetic, molecular, and biophysical/imaging techniques. We then use the information gained from those experiments to study more complex adhesive cell interactions taking place in primary cell/tissue culture and the gastrulating embryo.
  • Cell movements
    The movement of cells is an integral part of embryo morphogenesis. Cells can move individually (single cell migration), or as part of larger group of cells (cell intercalation, collective cell migration). We are studying the role of these different cell movement modes in embryo morphogenesis during gastrulation. In particular, we are analyzing how the interplay between autonomous and non-autonomous cell properties influences the movement of cell groups and tissues. To address this interplay we have developed different cell movement assays and use a combination of genetic, molecular, and biophysical/imaging tools to alter and analyze cell properties implicated in migration, such as cell adhesion, polarization, and motility.
  • Cell polarization
    The generation of embryo polarity (e.g. head-to-tail) depends on the ability of individual cells to polarize.  Cell polarization influences the way cells move, interact and assemble into tissues. We study the role of cell polarization in tissue morphogenesis during gastrulation. Specifically, we analyze how cell polarization influences cell adhesion, movement, and proliferation. We address the function of cell polarization in these processes by using genetic and molecular techniques to alter cell polarity and high resolution microscopy to characterize the effects of polarity changes on tissue morphogenesis during gastrulation.

Selected Publications

  • Behrndt M, Salbreux G, Campinho P, Hauschild R, Oswald F, Roensch J, Grill S and Heisenberg CP. Forces driving epithelial spreading in zebrafish gastrulation. Science. 2012 Oct; 338(6104):257-260.
  • Maitre JL, Berthoumieux H, Krens SF, Salbreux G, Juelicher F, Paluch E, and Heisenberg CP. Adhesion Functions in Cell Sorting by Mechanically Coupling the Cortices of Adhering Cells. Science. 2012 Oct; 338(6104):253-256.
  • Diz-Muñoz A, Krieg M, Bergert M, Ibarlucea-Benitez I, Muller D, Paluch E, Heisenberg CP. 2010. Control of directed cell migration in vivo by membrane-to-cortex attachment. PLoS Biol. 2010 Nov 30; 8(11):e100544.
  • Krieg M, Arboleda-Estudillo Y, Puech PH, Käfer J, Graner F, Müller DJ, Heisenberg CP. 2008. Tensile forces govern germ-layer organization in zebrafish. Nature Cell Biology 10(4):429-436.

2010 Professor, IST Austria
2001– 2010 Group Leader, Max-Planck Institute, Dresden, Germany
1997– 2000 Postdoc, University College London, UK
1993–1996  PhD, Max-Planck Institute, Tübingen, Germany

Selected Distinctions

2000 Emmy Noether Junior Professorship
1998 Marie-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship
1997 EMBO Postdoctoral Fellowship

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