perspective on development

Karow Lab


Uncovering the molecular logic of human neuron formation -

from direct reprogramming to cerebral organoids


The vision of the Karow lab is to uncover mechanisms of human neuron formation and to identify new molecular targets not only for enhancing and navigating but also for correcting defective neurogenesis. We are integrating the strength of two complementary approaches to study the formation of human neurons, that is in forced and natural conditions. 

Through overexpression of neurogenic transcriptions factors we are forcing neurogenesis in non-neural brain-resident pericytes of the adult human cerebral cortex to obtain lineage conversion into induced neurons (iNs). Our recent work has revealed not only an unprecedented understanding of the intermediate states during the fate change of pericytes into iNs, but also provided new insights into the molecular underpinning of neuron subclass specification. Based on these findings, we now aim at using the iN model system to identify transcriptional programs driving neuronal subtype specification in natural conditions. This will provide not only new cues on the specification of distinct neuron classes, but might also provide new insights in the molecular basis for many neurodevelopmental disorders (including neuropsychiatric disorders) in which this fine-tuned balance of neuron specification is altered.

The tools to investigate this "natural" neurogenesis are centered around cerebral organoids, a model system allowing investigation of early aspects of human neurogenesis. Currently, we are studying the disease etiology of a monogenetic X-linked disorder caused by an intellectual disability-causing mutation.

If you want to know more about our research, please contact us. We are always interested in motivated, curious people with a background in biology, bioinformatics, biomaterials, and medicine. 


Driven by my strong interest in translational aspects of stem cells, I am focusing on the processes induced in somatic cells during forced neurogenesis. My lab then embarked on combining this line of research with studying natural neurogenesis by using the cerebral organoid technology. It is in particular the unprecedented chance to study human neuron formation in a dish that fascinates me. 

In 2019 I joined the Medical faculty of the FAU Erlangen and moved my lab to the Institute of Biochemistry.

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Marisa Karow, Dr

I graduated with a M.Sc. in Molecular Biology / Neuroscience from Heidelberg University and I am really fascinated by the idea of generating new neurons in adult human brains. In my PhD project, I therefore investigate the intermediate 'switch' state during direct pericyte-to-neuron reprograming. The same qualities I use for cell & organoid culture and scRNA-seq experiments in the lab, I apply as a passionate balcony gardener and cook at home.

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Ben Lohrer, MSc
Graduate Student

I am Elisa and I come from Treviso, a cosy town in the north of Italy. I obtained my bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology in July 2017 at the University of Trento and I joined the lab in March 2019 to complete my internship and write my master’s thesis.  I am interested in Neurobiology with a particular focus on cerebral organoids, I am fascinated by all the possible applications and advances of this technique, to ultimately better understand brain diseases. When I am not in the lab I relax with cooking or watching TV series, but I also love travelling and exploring the world!

Elisa Gabassi, MSc

I am the Lab-Dinosaur. I´ve been working at the Institute of Biochemistry since 1993. Now I´m looking forward to join and support Marisas team and to work on exciting research projects.

In my spare time I love to dance and travel a lot.

Doris Jaegers
Lab Technician

I am Dandan from Weihai, China. I obtained my Dr. rer. nat degree from Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz as a molecular developmental biologist. I am fascinated with cell fate determination and have a great interest to discover the underlying molecular mechanism. Outside the lab, I love cooking, painting, hiking, and traveling.


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Dandan Han, Dr
  • Karow M*#, Camp GJ*, Falk S, Gerber T, Pataskar A, Gac-Santel M, Kageyama J, Brazovskaja A, Garding A, Fan Wengiang, Riedemann T, Casamassa A, Schichor C, Götz M, Tiwari VK, Treutlein B#, Berninger B#. Direct pericyte-to-neuron reprogramming via unfolding of a neural stem cell-like program. 2018. Nature Neuroscience. * co-first authors  # co-corresponding authors.


Pubmed     Nature Neuroscience          PMC          GEO          ENA         Altmetric

  • Gascón S, Murenu E, Masserdotti G, Ortega F, Russo GL, Petrik D, Deshpande A, Heinrich C, Karow M, Robertson SP, Schroeder T, Beckers J, Irmler M, Berndt C, Angeli JP, Conrad M, Berninger B, Götz M. Identification and Successful Negotiation of a Metabolic Checkpoint in Direct Neuronal Reprogramming. 2016. Cell Stem Cell.


Pubmed           Cell Stem Cell          Preview         PlumX

  • Karow M, Schichor C, Beckervordersandforth R, Berninger B. Lineage-Reprogramming of Pericyte-Derived Cells of the Adult Human Brain into Induced Neurons. 2014. Journal of Visualized Experiments.


Pubmed           JOVE          PMC        

  • Karow M, Sánchez R, Schichor C, Masserdotti G, Ortega F, Heinrich C, Gascón S, Khan M, Lie DC, Dellavalle A, Cossu G, Goldbrunner R, Götz M, Berninger B.Reprogramming of pericyte-derived cells of the adult human brain into induced neuronal cells. 2012. Cell Stem Cell.


Pubmed           Cell Stem Cell          PlumX

Selected publications
  • Lan F, Liu J, Narsinh KH, Hu S, Han L, Lee AS, Karow M, Nguyen KH, Nag D, Calos MP, Robbins RC, Wu, JC. Safe Genetic Modification of Cardiac Stem Cells Using a Site-Specific Integration Technique. 2012. Circulation.


Pubmed           Circulation          PMC


Pubmed           Stem Cells          PMC

  • December 2019 Dandan joins the lab

  • October 2019 Elisa defended her MSc thesis

  • September 2019 Marisa is appointed as a professor at the Institute of Biochemistry in the Medical Faculty at the FAU Erlangen

  • July 2019 DFG project is funded

  • June 2019 Ben receives Boehringer Ingelheim travel award for the  EMBO course on developmental neurobiology

  • April 2019 Elisa joins the lab with an Erasmus fellowship

  • February 2019 ForInter project is funded

  • July 2018 Heiko visited the lab for a very fruitful collaboration

  • July 2018 Ben is accepted in the IMPRS-TP graduate school

  • June 2018 Our work is published in Nature Neuroscience. Great collaboration with Gray Camp and Barbara Treutlein

Lab life
Oberwesel June 2018
Oberwesel June 2018

Christmas Party 2017
Christmas Party 2017

outdoor lab meeting
outdoor lab meeting

Oberwesel June 2018
Oberwesel June 2018