Professor Soojin Ryu
Mireille Gillings Professor of Neurobiology
+44 (0) 1392 727580
Living Systems Institute T03.11
Living Systems Institute, University of Exeter, Stocker Road, Exeter, EX4 4QD
As a recently appointed Mireille Gillings Professor of Neurobiology (awarded to women academics developing the next generation of female leaders in medicine, science, leadership and business) Soojin Ryu joined the University of Exeter College of Medicine and Health and the Living Systems Institute in January 2020.
She received her undergraduate degree in Biology from Harvard University (John Harvard Award for Excellence 1994) and her PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in the laboratory of Professor Robert Tjian. During her studies at Berkeley as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Predoctoral Fellow, she identified a novel protein complex which plays a key role in gene regulation.
Soojin joined Professor Wolfgang Driever’s group as a Human Frontiers Long term Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Freiburg. Here her work focused on molecular mechanisms for neuronal fate specification using zebrafish as a model organism.
In 2008, she was appointed as a Max Planck Independent Research Group Leader and joined the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg where she stayed until 2016. During this period, Soojin’s lab contributed significantly to establishing zebrafish as a new model organism for stress research.
Until 2019, Soojin was a part of the medical faculty of the University of Mainz in Germany as a Professor where her work firmly established zebrafish models of human stress-induced disorders.
Role of Stress Hormones on Animal Behaviour
Soojin is deeply interested in how stress hormones shape animal behavior including the ways in which prolonged stress exposure leads to behavioral dysfunctions. Her long-term goal is to use this knowledge to identify novel therapeutic targets for stress-induced disorders in humans.
- B.A. in Biology, Harvard University
- Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California Berkeley
Stress on Brain and Behaviour
Prolonged or severe exposure to stress hormones can lead to behavioural dysfunctions. I lead a group developing detailed and sophisticated models relating to the effects of stress on brain and behavior using zebrafish. We are particularly interested in understanding how prolonged or severe exposure to stress hormones lead to behavioral dysfunctions. Our current research centers around the key stress hormones produced by our body’s main stress response system, the Hypothalamo-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis coordinates diverse aspects of stress response in all vertebrates and the hormones produced by the HPA axis are remarkably conserved throughout vertebrate kingdom. Strikingly, while critical for the survival and coping capacity of the animal in fluctuating environment, the prolonged exposure to the HPA axis hormones is harmful and the dysregulation of the HPA axis is strongly implicated in a number of stress-induced disorders in humans including depression and anxiety disorders.
Pioneering Work with Zebrafish
Although it has long been recognised that humans share 70% of their genes with zebrafish the latter's application to particular areas of medical research is a developing science. Our lab has successfully applied advanced research techniques to establish zebrafish as a model organism with which to study the stress reponse and HPA axis function. This method enables us to unravel complex underlying mechanisms by which the HPA axis hormones exert their functions both in normal and compromised individuals, our lab has invested significant effort in establishing zebrafish as a model organism to study HPA axis function. As a part of this effort we have developed a method that allows modulation of the HPA axis hormone levels at will in a living animal.
Using such manipulations combined with robust behavioral analysis and comprehensive molecular and cellular profiling, our primary goal is to identify hitherto unknown mechanisms that mediate stress hormone’s striking control of animal behavior. Given the high degree of conservation of the stress system throughout vertebrates, the mechanistic insights we gain in zebrafish will be invaluable for understanding human stress biology as well.
Potential Therapeutic Applications
Recognising the potential for more sophisticated and specific medical interventions in the areas of depression and other stress-induced disorders our work is designed to harness the advantages for high-throughput analysis opportunities that zebrafish offers. To this end our second major goal is to screen for novel molecules that could ameliorate detrimental effects of stress as potential new therapeutic avenues for depression and other stress-induced disorders.
- How does stress rapidly alter an animal’s behavior?
Using optogenetic manipulation, we have recently demonstrated the crucial modulatory actions of pituitary corticotroph cell activity on locomotion, avoidance and stimulus responsiveness directly after the onset of stress. We combine state-of-the-art optogenetic and genetic manipulation with sophisticated behavioral analysis to unravel mechanisms by which HPA axis rapidly alters behaviour.
- How does stress exposure during development alter neural circuit structure and function?
We want to better understand how early life stress exposure shapes an animal’s future stress response and behavior. While some exposure to stress during development can improve future performance, prolonged or severe stress exposure in early life can lead to an individual with compromised coping capacity. We combine defined early life stress exposure with in-depth anatomical, physiological, molecular and cellular analyses to study new cellular and molecular mechanisms leading to adult fitness.
- Which molecules can regulate an animal’s stress response?
We believe that our zebrafish model provides a unique opportunity to screen for molecules that can restore normal HPA function following prolonged or severe stress exposure. Such molecules represent promising targets for restoring proper stress response in humans as well. We are actively pursuing identifying modulators of the HPA axis function in zebrafish in order to develop new molecular treatments for stress-induced disorders in humans.
- 2020-2025 Mireille Gillings Professorial Fellowship (£1 million)
- 2017-2020 Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation "Neurobehavioral mechanisms of stress inoculation – a translational approach" (€138.300)
- 2017-2020 Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation Grant "Extinction learning as a neurobiological resilience mechanism in zebrafish" (€162.300)
- 2016-2020 German Research Foundation Grant CRC1193 “Neurobiology of resilience to stress-related mental dysfunction” (€361.600 - shared by two PIs)
- 2016-2019 German Research Foundation Priority Program “Next Generation Optogenetics” SPP 1926 (€197.600)
- 2015-2020 German Ministry for Education and Research Grant (BMBF), “The regulation of developing neural circuits by stress” (€2.459.815)
- 2010-2016 German Research Foundation Grant- "Protein-based photoswitches" (€436.700)
- 2013-2016 University of Heidelberg, Excellence Initiative program (€80.700)
- 2010-2013 EU FP7 PEOPLE "Neuroendocrine influences on aging" (€150.000)
- 2010-2013 University of Heidelberg Frontiers Innovation Fund (€78.000)
- 2009-2012 Behrens-Weise Foundation (€150.800)
External Engagement and Impact
- Mireille Gillings Professorial Fellowship, 2019
- BMBF Independent Neuroscience Group Award, 2015
- Behrens-Weise Foundation Award, 2009
- Human Frontiers Science Program Postdoctoral Fellowship, 12/2000 - 12/2003
- Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, 6/2000 - 11/2000
- Howard Hughes Medical Institute Predoctoral Fellowship, 1995 - 2000
- John Harvard Award for Academic Excellence, 1994
- Fourth Place National Winner for Westinghouse Science Talent Search, 1989
- 2017- 2019 Institute Council member, German Resilience Center
- 2017- 2019 External advisor, Korean Institute of Science and Technology Europe, Saarbrucken, Germany
- 2015- 2019 Steering committee member, German Research Foundation Priority Program “Next Generation Optogenetics” (SPP 1926)
- 2015 Evaluation referee, the International Max Planck Research School for Neural Circuits, Frankfurt
- 2012-2015 Steering committee member, Interdisciplinary Center for Neuroscience, University of Heidelberg
- 2012-2015 Assembly member, Excellence Cluster CellNetworks, University of Heidelberg
- 2011 Second phase preparation committee member, Excellence Cluster CellNetworks, University of Heidelberg
- Southwest Zebrafish Meeting, Bristol, UK, September 2019
- International Congress of Neuroendocrinology, Toronto, Canada, Summer 2018
- 4th Medaka Principal Investigator Meeting, Heidelberg, Germany, Spring 2018
- The 5th European Zebrafish Principal Investigators Meeting, Trento, Italy, Spring 2018
- Living Systems Institute, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK, Spring 2018
- Bio Korea in Europe 3rd Symposium, London, UK, Fall 2017
- The Gulbekian Institute, Oeiras, Portugal, Fall 2017
- 4th Imaging Structure and Function in the Zebrafish Brain Conference, Martinsried, Germany, Winter 2016
- Korean Institute of Science and Technology Europe, Saarbrücken, Germany, Spring 2016
- EpiStressNet Conference, Sheffield UK, Winter 2016
- Bio Korea in Europe Symposium, Saarbrücken, Germany, Spring 2016
- German Research Foundation (DFG) Roundtable Discussion Photoreceptors, Frauenchiemsee, Germany, Fall 2015
- Max Planck Society Neuroscience Retreat, Frankfurt, Germany, Spring 2015
- European Neuroscience Conference for Doctoral Students, Lisbon, Portugal 2015
- Europe-Korea Conference on Science and Technology, Strasbourg, France 2015
- Rhein-Main Neuroscience Network Annual Retreat, Oberwesel, Germany, 2014
- Dept. Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA, 2014
- DFG Roundtable Meeting „Optogenetics“ Bad Homburg, Germany, Spring 2014
- 3th Imaging Structure and Function in the Zebrafish Brain Conference, Paris, France, Winter 2014
- Helmholtz Center, Munich, Germany, Winter 2014
- Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry, Munich, Germany, Winter 2014
- 9th FENS Symposium, Milan, Italy, Summer 2014
- Channelrhodopsin Meeting, Würzburg, Germany, Fall 2014
- Dept. Developmental Biology, University of Sheffield, UK 2013
- DFG Roundtable Discussion Photoreceptors, Schloss Ringberg, Germany, Fall 2013
- Janelia Farm Zebrafish Workshop, Ashburn, Virginia USA 2013
- DFG Forschergruppe 1279 Optogenetics Conference, Würzburg, Germany, 2012
- 2nd Imaging Structure and Function in the Zebrafish Brain Conference, London, UK, Winter 2012
- DFG Forschergruppe 1279 Optogenetics Conference, Munich, Germany, 2011
- Neuroendocrine Influence on Aging Symposium, Munich, Germany, 2011
- Imaging Structure and Function in the Zebrafish Brain Conference, Lisbon, Portugal, Winter 2010
- Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry annual Retreat, Schloss Ringberg, Germany, 2010
- 8th World Congress on Neuorhypophysial Hormones, Kitakyushu, Japan, 2009
- Heidelberg Forum, Heidelberg, 2009
- Dept. of Biology, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea 2009
- Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry, Munich, Germany, 2008
- 2019 BBC spotlight
- 2018 Spiegel Online
Teaching2017-18 - Organizer and Lecturer, “Stress Resilience: From Molecular Mechanism to Behavior” (for medical students) University Medical School, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
2017 - Lecturer, The Gulbenkian Integrative Biology and Biomedicine PhD Program, Neurobiology-Brian and Behavior Module, Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia, Portugal
2017 - Lecturer, “Zebrafish in Neuroscience,” Institute of Molecular Biology International Summer School Block Lecture, Mainz
2014 - Lecturer, Model Systems Course, IBioBA (Biomedicine Research Institute of Buenos Aires), Argentina
2013 - Undergraduate intensive practical course on “Analysis of the Zebrafish Nervous System Development,” University of Heidelberg
2013 - Undergraduate intensive seminar course on “How to Analyze Scientific Publications,” University of Heidelberg
2012/13 - Intensive practical course on “Imaging Nervous System Development” for Bachelors Students, University of Heidelberg
2012 - Lecture course on Developmental Neurobiology, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research
2010 - Graduate laboratory course on Gene Regulation Analysis for PhD students, Hartmut-Hoffmann-Berling International Graduate School, Heidelberg
2009 - Graduate lecture course on Developmental Neurobiology for PhD students, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Heidelberg
2008/9 - Graduate Developmental Neurobiology seminar course for Master students, Masters in Biotechnology Program, University of Heidelberg
Supervision / Group
- Helen Eachus -Postdoctoral Fellow
- Anna Tochwin - Senior Technician/Lab Manager