Synthetic Physiology

Harald Janovjak

A major challenge in biology is to understand how cells sense and process signals from the environment. Complex signaling pathways shape physiological responses by computing the magnitude, duration and location of each stimulus. To understand signaling we therefore require a framework that generates well-controlled temporal and spatial stimulation. Our optogenetic approach is multi-disciplinary and bridges cell biology, biophysics and instrumentation development to answer long-standing questions in cellular signaling.

Our projects are (i) to develop signaling cascades that can be remote-controlled with light and (ii) to address families of fundamental problems in signaling with this unique angle. Signaling will be triggered locally (by pointing light), temporally (by turning light ON and OFF) and at different levels (by controlling light intensity) in living cells and in vivo. Local activation will test what mechanisms underlie the propagation of signals in cell membranes. Activation in temporal patterns will mimic physiological signaling and probe adaptation, memory and dynamics in prototypical cellular pathways. Collectively, we will decode how signals are orchestrated into physiological responses.

Harald Janovjak
Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria)
Am Campus 1
A – 3400 Klosterneuburg
Phone: +43 (0)2243 9000-4201

CV and publication list

Janovjak Group website

Alexandra Mally

Phone: +43 (0)2243 9000-1105


  • Cathrin Heidsiek, Intern
  • Alvaro Ingles Prieto, Postdoc
  • Martin Jendryka, Intern
  • Kris Kolev, Technician
  • Carina Kraupa, Intern
  • Catherine McKenzie, PhD Student
  • Maurizio Morri, PhD Student
  • Eva Reichhart, PhD Student
  • Inmaculada Sanchez Romero, Postdoc
  • Miroslava Spanova, Technician

Selected Publications

  • McKenzie C., I. Sanchez-Romero & H. Janovjak. Flipping the photoswitch: Ion channels under light control. Advances in Experimental Biology and Medicine (to appear 2014).
  • Grusch M., K. Schelch, R. Riedler, E. Reichhart, C. Differ, W. Berger, A. Inglés-Prieto & H. Janovjak. Spatio‐temporally precise activation of engineered receptor tyrosine kinases by light. EMBO Journal (2014) 10.15252/embj.201387695.
  • Szobota S., C. McKenzie & H. Janovjak. Optical control of ligand-gated ion channels. Ion Channels Methods and Protocols (2013) 998:417-435.
  • Janovjak H., G. Sandoz & E.Y. Isacoff. A modern ionotropic glutamate receptor with a potassium-selectivity signature sequence. Nature Communications (2011) 2: 232.
  • Janovjak H., S. Szobota, C. Wyart, D. Trauner & E.Y. Isacoff. A light-gated, potassium-selective glutamate receptor for the optical inhibition of neuronal firing. Nature Neuroscience (2010) 18: 1027-1032.


2011 Assistant Professor, IST Austria
2010–2011 Research Associate, University of Munich, Germany
2006–2010 Postdoc, University of California, Berkeley, USA
2005 PhD, University of Technology, Dresden, Germany

Selected Distinctions

2011 HFSP Grant
2007–2009 Long-term fellow of the European Molecular Biology Organization
2005 PhD with highest honors (summa cum laude)

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