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Cell mechanics and neurodegeneration lab



Research Topics

We are a new lab in the Interfaculty Institute for Biochemistry (IFIB) at the University of Tübingen in Germany.

We are interested in neuronal cell biology, with an emphasis on the cytoskeleton-membrane interactions in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. 

The vast majority (>90%) of patients clinically diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases (AD, PD) do not have a clear genetic etiology. Research in the last decades have identified multiple candidate genes causal for the development of early-onset forms of these diseases, yet little is known on what triggers the late-onset forms. How can we correlate known early-onset genes with unknown triggers of the late-onset forms? Are there intersections where non-genetic factors directly influence cellular processes leading to the observed pathological hallmarks of neurodegeneration?

Our work will leverage insights from genetic and physical processes in cells to understand how the relationship between biochemical and mechanical deficits converge and influence the course of neurodegeneration. We hope to take advantage of new data including non-genetic views that will require new concepts and advanced biophysical tools to corroborate late-onset markers (e.g. protein aggregates) with genetic origins of the diseases.


Schematic diagram summarizing past and on-going works using iPSC-derived cortical neurons to elucidate the interplay between axonal transport and cytoskeleton architecture. (Rafiq NM in submission, Rafiq et al 2022, Gowrishankar et al 2021).

We used a previously described synaptic vesicle-like reconstitution system in fibroblast to model the different secretory vesicle pools of iPSC-derived dopaminergic neurons. Dopamine-containing vesicles are strikingly larger than the glutamate-containing counterparts. These findings may have implications in understanding non-classical synapses, and the preferential vulnerability of dopaminergic synapses in Parkinson’s disease.

Fujise et al 2024. (BioRxiv preprint) 


Schematic diagram summarizing the impact of Parkinsonism synaptojanin-1 mutant in primary cilia of iPSC-derived dopaminergic neurons (Rafiq et al 2024). Current follow-up works include connecting ciliary calcium levels and pacemaker-related functions.


We have previously described a role for bridging proteins (e.g. KANKs) in regulating cell adhesion turnover by connecting actomyosin-dependent contractility and microtubules (Rafiq et al 2019a, Rafiq et al 2019b). We are excited to explore these mechanisms in neurons in the future!


The Team


Nisha Mohd Rafiq, PhD

Group Leader / Principal Investigator

Cell Mechanics & Neurodegeneration Lab

University of Tübingen

Postdoc - Neuroscience @ Yale University

PhD - Mechanobiology @ National University of Singapore & King's College London

Lab members

Polina Volos (GTC Neuroscience, Master's)

Jaya Mishra (University of Tübingen, PhD)

Ke Wang, Makuan AbdelWahed (Bachelor's students)

Barbara Birk (with Feil Group, technician)

If you are interested in joining our team, please reach out via the contact information below.


Institute and Tübingen


Interfaculty Institute for Biochemistry

Faculty of Mathematics and Sciences

University of Tübingen

Auf De Morgenstelle 34

Tübingen, Germany 72076

Office: 4A36 (4th floor)

Lab: 5th floor

Contact us

Interested in joining the lab?

We are hiring! We value people from diverse backgrounds, regardless of race, religious beliefs, ethnic origins, gender identities, socioeconomic statuses and sexual orientations.

Scientifically, we welcome people with the following expertise: bioengineering, physics, computer science, cell biology and/or neuroscience to be part of our multidisciplinary environment. We are actively exchanging ideas with the local community and our international collaborators (Singapore, USA). We strongly encourage applications from abroad for our graduate and postgraduate positions.

Undergraduates, Masters and PhD

Please send me your CV with reference contact information. If you are currently a student in Tübingen, you can send me a quick email and we can have a chat at IFIB.


Please send me an email outlining your past work and future interests, together with your CV. 

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