Laboratory of Tissue Morphogenesis and Cancer


Microenvironment, cell-to-cell communication, epithelial-stromal interaction, mechanical forces, epithelial morphogenesis, functional heterogeneity, organoids

In our laboratory we study processes and mechanisms, which govern epithelial morphogenesis and homeostasis, and how their deregulation can lead to developmental defects and cancer. We investigate the interplay of biochemical and mechanical signals in shaping epithelial sheets to functional structures, with particular interests in the role fibroblasts in this process. Our ultimate research goal is to understand, how organs are formed and how tumors emerge.

We use the mammary gland, a paradigmatic branched organ unique to mammals, as our main research model and seek answers to the following main research questions:

  1. How is the branched pattern of glandular organs formed?
  2. What is the functional role of fibroblast heterogeneity in mammary gland development?
  3. How do fibroblast-mediated developmental programs contribute to tumor formation?

Our research strategy combines advanced 3D cell culture models and organoids, state-of-the-art imaging techniques, genetic mouse models, single-cell and spatial transcriptomic analyses, mathematical modeling, and AI-driven image analysis.

Microenvironment of the mammary epithelium.
Microenvironment of the mammary epithelium. Imaging through mammary gland whole-mount reveals bulb-shaped terminal end bud, an epithelial structure unique to developing mammary glands in puberty, embedded in a fibroblast- and adipose-rich mammary stroma. Red: cell membranes; yellow: vimentin (stromal cells); blue: DAPI-stained nuclei.
Extracellular matrix remodeling in organoid culture
Extracellular matrix remodeling in organoid culture. Mammary organoids were cultured for 7 days in a mixture of Matrigel with fluorescently labelled collagen, fixed, stained with fluorescently labelled phalloidin, and imaged using a confocal microscope. Red-stained remodelled collagen, organized into thick fibers, is present around the necks of the epithelial buds. Gren: cytoskeleton of epithelial cells. The top row shows maximum intensity projection (MIP), the bottom row shows individual z-stack slices. 

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