Research Groups

Shaping the vertebrate retina: Cells, tissue and tissue mechanics

In the lab, we aim to untangle the events that lead to the development of organs. In this context, we study the formation of the vertebrate retina from cells to tissue and take the interactions between scales into account. We further assess how mechanics influence tissue formation. 

Importantly, only when developmental programs occur coordinately from one stage to the next can tissues form correctly in time and space. Thus, we work on three key steps of retinal formation and investigate their interplay:

1) We aim to elucidate how cells of the optic vesicle rearrange to efficiently form the neuroepithelium and the retinal pigment epithelium that together establish the optic cup.

2) We want to investigate the proliferation dynamics of neuroepithelial cells leading to optic cup growth until the correct number of cells is generated that poises the system for differentiation. 

3) We resolve how and when neuroepithelial cells enter neurogenesis programs. Furthermore, as neurons are frequently born far away from the position at which they later function, we investigate how newborn neurons move to the correct layer within the developing tissue, a process termed neuronal lamination

To get insights into these fundamental questions, we combine methods of cell and developmental biology with advanced quantitative imaging, image analysis tools and, in collaborations, theoretical modeling. 

The overarching goal of our work is thus to shed light on how morphogenesis, growth and differentiation are coordinated in development. This will generate an understanding of the principles of retinal and brain formation specifically and organogenesis in general.    

Current and future areas of research include:

  • Deciphering the interplay of epithelial rearrangements during optic cup morphogenesis taking single cells and tissue scale changes into account.


  • Untangling the molecular cascades involved in interkinetic nuclear migration in different tissue contexts and their impact on tissue wide growth. 
  • Quantitative analysis of growth and limits of growth in the developing neuroepithelium.


  • Deconstruction of neuronal lamination in the retina at the cellular and tissue level over development. 



Selected Publications


Rana Amini, Anastasia Labudina, Caren Norden
Stochastic single cell migration leads to robust horizontal cell layer formation in the vertebrate retina.
Development, 146(12) Art. No. dev173450 (2019)


Marija Matejčić, Guillaume Salbreux, Caren Norden
A non-cell-autonomous actin redistribution enables isotropic retinal growth.
PLoS Biol, 16(8) Art. No. e2006018 (2018)
Rana Amini, Mauricio Rocha-Martins, Caren Norden
Neuronal Migration and Lamination in the Vertebrate Retina.
Front Neurosci, 11 Art. No. 742 (2018)


Jaroslav Icha, Michael Weber, Jennifer Waters, Caren Norden
Phototoxicity in live fluorescence microscopy, and how to avoid it.
Bioessays, 39(8) Art. No. 1700003 (2017)
Caren Norden
Pseudostratified epithelia - cell biology, diversity and roles in organ formation at a glance.
J Cell Sci, 130(11) 1859-1863 (2017)
Jaydeep Sidhaye, Caren Norden
Concerted action of neuroepithelial basal shrinkage and active epithelial migration ensures efficient optic cup morphogenesis.
Elife, 6 Art. No. e22689 (2017)


Jaroslav Icha, Christiane Kunath, Mauricio Rocha-Martins, Caren Norden
Independent modes of ganglion cell translocation ensure correct lamination of the zebrafish retina.
J Cell Biol, 215(2) 259-275 (2016)
Jaroslav Icha, Christopher Schmied, Jaydeep Sidhaye, Pavel Tomancák, Stephan Preibisch, Caren Norden
Using Light Sheet Fluorescence Microscopy to Image Zebrafish Eye Development
J Vis Exp, (110) Art. No. e53966 (2016)
Paulina J. Strzyz, Marija Matejcic, Caren Norden
Heterogeneity, Cell Biology and Tissue Mechanics of Pseudostratified Epithelia: Coordination of Cell Divisions and Growth in Tightly Packed Tissues
In: Volume 325. (Eds.) Kwang W. Jeon International Review of Cell and Molecular Biology.,Amsterdam, Netherlands,Elsevier (2016),89-114 Ch. 3


Edo Dzafic, Paulina J. Strzyz, Michaela Wilsch-Bräuninger, Caren Norden
Centriole Amplification in Zebrafish Affects Proliferation and Survival but Not Differentiation of Neural Progenitor Cells.
Cell Rep, 13(1) 168-182 (2015)
Renee W Chow, Alexandra D Almeida, Owen Randlett, Caren Norden, William A Harris
Inhibitory neuron migration and IPL formation in the developing zebrafish retina.
Development, 142(15) 2665-2677 (2015)
Paulina J. Strzyz, Hyun O. Lee, Jaydeep Sidhaye, Isabell Weber, Louis Leung, Caren Norden
Interkinetic Nuclear Migration Is Centrosome Independent and Ensures Apical Cell Division to Maintain Tissue Integrity.
Dev Cell, 32(2) 203-219 (2015)


Isabell Weber, Ana P. Ramos, Paulina J. Strzyz, Louis Leung, Stephen Young, Caren Norden
Mitotic position and morphology of committed precursor cells in the zebrafish retina adapt to architectural changes upon tissue maturation.
Cell Rep, 7(2) 386-397 (2014)


Hyun O. Lee, Caren Norden
Mechanisms controlling arrangements and movements of nuclei in pseudostratified epithelia
Trends Cell Biol, 23(2) 141-150 (2013)


Grace K W Wong, Marie-Laure Baudet, Caren Norden, Louis Leung, William A Harris
Slit1b-robo3 signaling and N-cadherin regulate apical process retraction in developing retinal ganglion cells.
J Neurosci, 32(1) 223-228 (2012)


Louis Leung, Abigail Klopper, Stephan W. Grill, William A Harris, Caren Norden
Apical migration of nuclei during G2 is a prerequisite for all nuclear motion in zebrafish neuroepithelia.
Development, 138(22) 5003-5013 (2011)
Owen Randlett, Caren Norden, William A Harris
The vertebrate retina: a model for neuronal polarization in vivo.
Dev Neurobiol, 71(6) 567-583 (2011)


Caren Norden, Stephen Young, Brian A Link, William A Harris
Actomyosin is the main driver of interkinetic nuclear migration in the retina.
Cell, 138(6) 1195-1208 (2009)