Biology of Astrocytes Group


The focus of our team is to understand the function of astrocyte-specific pathways in the brain physiology and pathology, particularly those mediating neurobiological phenotypes related to psychiatric disorders. In current projects, we combine state-of-the art genetic manipulation with live imaging of biological processes in relevant cellular and animal models to identify novel therapeutic strategies.

Michał Ślęzak, Ph.D., principal investigator

Michał graduated from the Université Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, from the lab of Dr. Frank W. Pfrieger, where he developed a set of novel transgenic mice for astrocyte-specific, inducible gene ablation. Afterwards, he joined Inst. Pharmacology, PAS, in Kraków, where he obtained Young Investigator Award from Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education. During his stay, he found that astrocytes are an important cellular target in the brain of systemic glucocorticoids. He accomplished his postdoctoral training during Marie Curie IEF fellowship at VIB, KU Leuven. At this time, he obtained the direct evidence for the functional sensory tripartite synapse using in vivo imaging. Simultaneously, he developed a novel methods for flexible genetic manipulation of astrocytes in wild-types animals. His first independent position was at BioMed X in Heidelberg, where he led a project sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim. Within four years the team has obtained the comprehensive evidence supporting the dysfunction of astrocytes in depression. The project resulted in a new drug discovery program launched by the sponsor.

Bartosz Zglinicki, Ph.D.

Bartek graduated from University of Warsaw and then began his PhD studies at the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology in Warsaw. In both places he was involved in projects focused on metabolism, especially adipose tissue metabolism and it’s regulation by miRNAs. The work has led to discovery of several miRNAs, that were associated with the process of non-shivering thermogenesis. Additionally, Bartek was also involved in side projects within the cognitive neuroscience field, where he grew interest in non-invasive methods of animal behavior assessment and data analysis. Experience in these methods and being influenced by the system of metabolic cages from the previous project, led Bartek to work on automated T-maze system combined with analysis of animals with deep learning. Using deep neural networks allowed for analysis on the level that would be hard to achieve otherwise. Currently, at Łukasiewicz – PORT, Bartek is moving these concepts further and is responsible for implementation of a tool known as a social box, which allows for characterization of more complex animal behavior.

Katarzyna Terejko, Ph.D.

Katarzyna graduated from Jagiellonian University in Cracow and accomplished her Ph.D. degree in the Department of Biophysics and Neuroscience at Wrocław Medical University. In her research, Katarzyna focused on electrophysiological properties of the fast inhibitory synaptic transmission in the adult mammalian brain and she investigated molecular mechanisms underlying the activation process and modulation by benzodiazepines of the GABAA receptor. During her Ph.D. and a short postdoctoral training at Wrocław Medical University, while she continued her research on the relationship between the structure of pentameric ion channels and their kinetics, she discovered an intersubunit interaction and characterized long-range molecular interactions within the GABAA receptor.

Anna Lech, Ph.D.

Anna graduated from Wroclaw University of Science and Technology and accomplished her Ph.D. at the Department of Molecular Physiology and Neurobiology at the University of Wrocław. During her research, Anna focused on molecular mechanisms of synaptic plasticity in hippocampal GABAergic synapses. As a result, she identified a specific role of matrix metalloproteinases and trans-synaptic interaction between neuroligin-2 and neurexin in inhibitory long-term potentiation. In our team Anna will be responsible for in vivo imaging.

Beata Tepper, Ph.D.

Beata graduated in Neuroscience from Jagiellonian University in Cracow and accomplished her Ph.D. at the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology PAS in Warsaw. During her master’s studies, she focused on the influence of stress and beta-adrenergic antagonists on G-protein-coupled receptor signaling in the brain. After moving to Warsaw, she switched to developmental neuroscience and began to study neurogenesis and neurotrophins. In our research group, Beata is mostly interested in sex differences in the molecular basis of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Viorica Raluca Contu, Ph.D.

Raluca received her B.S. and M.Sc. from Hiroshima University, where she studied toxic dopamine metabolites involved in the etiology of Parkinson’s disease. For her Ph.D. journey, Raluca joined Dr. Tomohiro Kabuta’s group at the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry in Tokyo as part of a collaborative program with the University of Yamanashi. Her projects focused on the molecular mechanisms and physiological significance of RN/DNautophagy, a non-canonical form of autophagy that targets nucleic acids. Raluca received a Research Fellowship for Young Scientists from Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) during her PhD and was also awarded an International JSPS Postdoctoral Fellowship to investigate lysosomal acidification and ATP consumption during cargo delivery in autophagy afterwards. While a postdoc at Rutgers University – Newark, Raluca established iPSC-derived 2D and 3D culture models of Alzheimer’s disease and studied autophagy-associated disease phenotype. In our group, Raluca aims to decipher GR-dependent cell type-specific mechanisms through which chronic stress contributes to the development of psychiatric conditions like major depressive disorder. Do well to do good – yoga and local culture lover.

Joanna Sikorska, M.Sc.

In our group, Asia works as a Lab manager and is responsible for orders, budget control, documentation and laboratory work organization. She graduated in Biotechnology from the University of Wrocław and Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences. She gained laboratory experience at the Brandenburg University of Technology in Germany, where she spent a few months as a part of the Erasmus+ program, and at the Hirszfeld Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy PAS, where she was responsible for sequencing of bacteriophages and SARS-CoV-2.

Aleksandra Herud, M.Sc.

Ola graduated in Biomedical Engineering at Wrocław University of Science and Technology. She gained experience working as a bioinformatician at Hirszfeld Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy PAS, where she analysed data from Next-Generation Sequencing and third-generation sequencing of bacteria, bacteriophages and SARS-CoV-2. Ola joined Biology of Astrocytes Group to take responsibility of RNA-seq data analysis.

Tansu Göver, M.Sc.

Tansu obtained her BSc in Molecular Biology and Genetics from Uskudar University, Turkey. During her undergraduate degree, she completed various research periods at University of Oxford, as part of the Erasmus+ Traineeship Programme.  Afterwards, she accomplished her MSc in Neuroscience and proceeded to begin her PhD with a keen interest on investigating the role and molecular mechanisms of astrocytes in neuropsychiatric disorders.

Patrycja Ziuzia, M.Sc.

Patrycja acomplished her M. Sc. in Biotechnology with applied microbiology specialization at Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences. She has experience in biocatalysis and technological processes optimization. As a part of EEA School she had an opportunity to visit Iceland and help local agri-food industries in achieving sustainable production. She joined our lab in 2021 as a trainee to acquire knowledge in neuroscience. Nowadays, she is responsible for research and development, particularly in behavioral analysis field. She is interested in psychology and fiction-fantasy literature as well as in growing houseplants.

Paweł Hanus, M.Sc.

Paweł obtained his MSc in degree in Genetics and Experimental Biology at University of Wrocław, where he was identifying astrocytal receptor for transthyretin. Currently in our team he is investigating role of astrocyte’s metabolism in central effects of chronic stress. His main research interest is astrocytal regulation of synaptic plasticity. Privately committed floorball player and hitchhiker.

Astrocytes are known for their diverse and essential functions, including neurotransmitters recycling, regulation of synaptic transmission and control over the brain metabolism. These tasks are moderated through systemic signals, including hormones. Our team found that astrocytes are a direct transcriptional target for glucocorticoids in the brain and we identified that crucial metabolic pathways in astrocytes are controlled through glucocorticoid receptor activation. Moreover, we shown that this signaling pathway is necessary for central effects of acute and chronic stress. Interestingly, multiple members of GR-dependent pathway were consistently identified as dysregulated in transcriptomic studies of brain samples from patients of diverse psychiatric diseases. In our current research we investigate the contribution of selected pathways and genes for neurobiological correlates of circuit-specific impairments related to psychiatric phenotypes.

Transgenic mouse models:

  • Spatio-temporally controlled genetic manipulations with conditional KO (Cre-ERT2/loxP)
  • Viral vector delivery
  • In utero electroporation–based method for flexible genetic manipulation in specific cell types across various species


  • 1-photon and 2-photon in vivo imaging of astrocyte calcium signaling in behaving mice
  • Fiber photometry with simultaneous behavior monitoring in individual mice
  • Long-term live cell imaging in vitro


  • Optimized protocols for isolation of various cell types from mouse brain
  • Optimized protocols for isolation of astrocyte nuclei from fresh frozen human samples
  • RNAseq, nuclei RNAseq


  • Automated live tracking of spontaneous behavior of multiple animals
  • Rodent models of stress: chronic social defeat stress, early maternal separation stress
  • Depressive-like phenotypes: 3-chamber social interaction, dark-light box, sucrose preference
  • Cognitive tests: Y-maze, elevated plus maze
  • Circadian activity: running-wheel cages

Cell culture:

  • Human iPSC-derived cultures of astrocytes and astrocyte-neuron co-cultures
  • Primary mouse astrocyte and neuronal cultures

Metabolic readouts:

  • Seahorse (glycolysis rate; oxygen consumption; fuel usage)
  • Mitochondrial membrane potential (TMRE)
  • Live cell imaging – based measure of glycolytic rate
  • Long-term imaging of genetically encoded metabolic indicators in vitro and in vivo

Molecular genetics:

  • Standard cloning, Gateway, Gibson assembly, Golden Gate assembly
  • Bacterial artificial chromosomes
  • Viral vectors
  • CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing
  • shRNA, siRNA – based gene silencing

Standard readouts:

  • Immunocytochemistry
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Western blot, Southern blot
  • Golgi staining
  • RNAscope

Tripartite synapse:

  • Slezak M*, Kandler S*, Van Veldhoven P, Bonin V, Holt MG. Distinct mechanisms for visual and motor related astrocyte responses in mouse visual cortex. (2019) Curr Biol. 29 (1-8), 29 (18): 3120 – 3127, DOI
  • Slezak M*, Grosche A*, Niemiec A*, Tanimoto A, Pannicke T, Münch TA, Crocker B, Isope P, Hartig W, Beck SC, Huber G, Ferracci G, Perraut M, Reber M, Miehe M, Demais V, Lévêque C, Metzger D, Szklarczyk K, Przewłocki R, Seeliger MW, Sage-Ciocca D, Hirrlinger J, Reichenbach A, Reibel S, Pfrieger FW. (2012) Relevance of exocytotic glutamate release from retinal gliaNeuron. 74: 504-16, DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.03.027
  • Kremer A, Lippens S, Bartunkova S, Asselbergh B, Blanpain C, Fendrych M, Goossens A, Holt M, Janssens S, Krols M, Larsimont JC, Mc Guire C, Nowack MK, Saelens X, Schertel A, Schepens B, Slezak M, Timmerman V, Theunis C, Van Brempt R, Visser Y, Guérin CI. (2015) Developing 3D SEM in a broad biological context. Journal of Microscopy 259:80-96, DOI: 10.1111/jmi.12211
  • Slezak M, Pfrieger FW & Sołtys Z. (2006) Synaptic plasticity, astrocytes, and morphological homeostasis. Journal of Physiology (Paris). 99:84-91, DOI: 10.1016/j.jphysparis.2005.12.082
  • Slezak M. & Pfrieger FW (2003) New roles for astrocytes: regulation of CNS synaptogenesis. Trends in Neuroscience 26: 531-535, DOI: 10.1016/j.tins.2003.08.005

Glucocorticoid signaling in astrocytes:

  • Nold V, Portenhauser M, Del Prete D, Blasius A, Harris I, Koros E, Peleh T, Hengerer B, Kolassa I-T, Slezak M, Allers KA. Impact of Fkbp5 × Early Life Adversity × Sex in humanized mice on multidimensional stress responses and circadian rhythmicity. Molecular Psychiatry, DOI:
  • Tertil M*, Skupio U*, Barut J, Dubovyk V, Wawrzczak-Bargiela A, Soltys Z, Golda S, Kudla L, Wiktorowska L, Szklarczyk K, Korostynski M, Przewlocki R, Slezak MGlucocorticoid receptor signaling in astrocytes is required for aversive memory formation. (2018) Translational Psychiatry 8:255, DOI: 10.1038/s41398-018-0300-x
  • Slezak M, Korostyński M, Dzbęk J, Gieryk A, Gołda S , Piechota M, Wlazło E, Przewłocki R. (2013) Astrocytes are a target of the glucocorticoid receptor-dependent component of morphine actionGlia. 61:623-35, DOI: 10.1002/glia.22460
  • Piechota M, Korostyński M, Solecki W, Gieryk A, Slezak M, Bilecki W, Ziółkowska B, Kostrzewa E, Cymerman I, Świech L, Jaworski J, Przewłocki R. (2010) The dissection of transcriptional modules regulated by various drugs of abuse in the mouse striatumGenome Biology 11: R48, DOI: 10.1186/gb-2010-11-5-r48

Genetic tools for astrocytes:

  • Edwards-Faret G*, de Vin F*, Slezak M*, Gollenbeck L, Karaman R, Shinmyo Y, Batiuk MY, Menacho Pando C, Urschitz J, Rincon MY, Moisyadi S, Schnütgen F, Kawasaki H, Schmucker D, Holt MG. (2023) A new technical approach for cross-species examination of neuronal wiring and adult neuron-glia functions. Neuroscience. 508: 40-51, DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2022.11.029
  • Shinmyo Y, Saito K, Hamabe-Horiike T, Kameya N, Ando A, Kawasaki K, Anh Dinh Duong T, Sakashita M, Roboon J, Hattori T, Kannon T, Hosomichi K, Slezak M, Holt MG, Tajima A, Hori O, Kawasaki H. (2022) Localized astrogenesis regulates gyrification of the cerebral cortex. Science Advances 8(10):eabi5209, DOI:
  • Slezak M*, De Vin F*, Shinmyo Y, Batiuk MY, Rincon MY, Menacho Pando C, Urschitz J, Moisyadi S, Schnütgen F, Kawasaki H, Holt MG. Flexible, fast and selective genetic manipulation of the vertebrate CNS with misPiggybioRxiv, DOI:
  • Pfrieger FW & Slezak M. (2012) Genetic approaches to study glial cells in the rodent brainGlia. 60: 681-701, DOI: 10.1002/glia.22283
  • Slezak M, Goritz C, Niemiec A, Frisen J, Chambon P, Metzger D, Pfrieger FW. (2007) Transgenic mice for conditional gene manipulation in astroglial cellsGlia. 55: 1565-76, DOI: 10.1002/glia.20570

IPSC-based models:

  • Plociennikowska A, Frankish J, Moraes T, Del Prete D, Kahnt F, Acuna C, Slezak M, Binder M, Bartenschlager R. TLR3 activation by Zika virus stimulates inflammatory cytokine production which dampens the antiviral response induced by RIG-I-like receptors. (2021) Journal of Virology 95:e01050-20, DOI: 10.1128/JVI.01050-20

POLS Norway Grants / NCN

NCN OPUS 2022 AstroSyCo

NCN OPUS 2023 GR traits (in consortium with Dr. M. Korostyński, Maj Institute of Pharmacology Polish Academy of Science, Krakow)

Standardized Approaches to Modeling and Examination of Neuropsychiatric Disorders (SAME-NeuroID) – Twinning, Horizon Europe

Industrial Doctorates:

Patrycja Ziuzia – Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences
Paweł Hanus – Wrocław Medical University
Tansu Gover – Wrocław Medical University