Christoph Winkler

Associate Professor and Assistant Head of Department

Contact Information:

Department of Biological Science
National University of Singapore
14 Science Drive 4
Block S1A, Level 6
Singapore 117543

Curriculum Vitae

Lab webpage: Winkler's Lab

6516 7376
6779 2486

Research Areas

Developmental Biology, Neurogenetics, Molecular Cell Biology

Research Interests

1. Photoreceptor degeneration in a zebrafish model for Retinitis pigmentosa

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is an inherited eye disease characterized by progressive photoreceptor degeneration. 12% of patients suffering from RP carry mutations in the RNA splicing factors PRPF3, PRPF8 and PRPF31. How mutations in these ubiquitous splicing factors selectively cause degeneration of photoreceptors remains unknown. We have established a zebrafish model to address this problem. This model allows a unique combination of powerful genetics and dynamic bioimaging in vivo. Using advanced confocal microscopy, we were the first to visualize the effects of distinct PRPF31 mutations on photoreceptor degeneration in an in vivo setting. Furthermore, we were the first to identify aberrantly spliced mRNA targets in this model, yielding important new insight into the mechanism of splice factor induced neuron degeneration.

2. In vivo imaging of osteoblast-osteoclast interaction in a medaka model for osteoporosis

We are interested in the cellular mechanisms that control bone homeostasis. Fish, such as medaka, have bone cells very similar to humans. Also, the genetic networks regulating formation of bone-forming osteoblasts and bone-resorbing osteoclasts are highly conserved. We have established several transgenic medaka lines that express fluorescent reporters in bone cells at distinct stages of differentiation, or express RANKL, an osteoclast-inducing factor, under control of a heatshock promoter. Upon heatshock, RANKL induces the formation and activation of ectopic osteoclasts. This results in degradation of bone matrix in a manner very similar to the situation in human osteoporosis patients. This unique in vivo model allows visualization of osteoblast/osteoclast interaction in an intact living animal during bone degradation as well as regeneration.

3. Neurogenesis and neural differentiation in the embryonic spinal cord

Our nervous system consists of billions of neurons that interconnect in a very precise manner to allow proper function of the nervous system. To achieve this extraordinary complexity, neurons need to be born at exactly defined time points and positions in the developing embryo and make specific interconnections. Using the zebrafish model, we analyze how growth factors (Midkines), their receptors (Alk, RPTPs) and a class of transcription factors (the Dmrt family) control timing and position of neuron birth and differentiation in brain and spinal cord.

4. FRET-based Ca2+ sensors to visualize neuron-glia interaction during synapse establishment in a zebrafish model for Spinal Muscular Atrophy

We have generated transgenic zebrafish lines that express a FRET-based ratiometric Ca2+ sensor in motoneurons and surrounding glia cells. These lines allow imaging of Ca2+ influx and thus activaty of neurons and glia during synapse establishment and maintenance in intact embryos. Ca2+ influx is analyzed during normal development and in our zebrafish model for Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a common neurodegenerative disorder characterized by progressive motoneuron degeneration with unclear etiology.

Selected Publications 2011-2016

(for full list of publications, please click here)

  1. Spiró, Z., Koh, A., Tay, S., See, K., Winkler, C. (2016). Transcriptional enhancement of Smn levels in motoneurons is crucial for proper axon morphology in zebrafish. Scientific Reports. In Press.
  2. Yu, T., Buettner, A., To, T.T., Witten, P.E., Huysseune, A., Winkler, C. (2016). Live imaging of osteoclast inhibition by bisphosphonates in a medaka osteoporosis model. Disease Models & Mechanisms9(2), 155-163.
  3. To, T.T., Witten, P.E., Huysseune, A., Winkler, C. (2015). An adult osteopetrosis model in medaka reveals importance of osteoclast function for bone remodeling in teleost fish. Comp Biochem Physiol C Toxicol Pharmacol 178:68-75.
  4. Willems, B., Tao, S., Yu, T., Huysseune, A., Witten, P.E., Winkler, C. (2015). The Wnt co-receptor Lrp5 is required for cranial neural crest cell migration in zebrafish. PLoS ONE 10(6):e0131768.
  5. Graf, M., Teo Qi-Wen, E.R., Sarusie, M.V., Rajaei, F., Winkler, C. (2015). Dmrt5 controls corticotrope and gonadotrope differentiation in the zebrafish pituitary. Mol Endocrinol 29, 187-99.
  6. See, K., Yadav, P., Giegerich, M., Cheong, P.S., Graf, M., Vyas, H., Lee, S.G.P, Mathavan, S., Fischer, U., Sendtner, M., Winkler, C. (2014). SMN-deficiency alters Nrxn2 expression and splicing in zebrafish and mouse models of spinal muscular atrophy. Human Molecular Genetics 23, 1754-1770.
  7. Winkler, C. and Yao, S. (2014). The midkine family of growth factors: Diverse roles in nervous system formation and maintenance. British Journal of Pharmacology 171, 905-912.
  8. Renn, J., Buettner, A., To, T.T., Chan, S.J.H., Winkler, C. (2013). A novel col10a1:nlGFP transgenic reporter line displays putative osteoblast precursors at the medaka notochordal sheath prior to mineralization. Developmental Biology 381, 134-143.
  9. Yao, S., Cheng, M.G., Zhang, Q., Wasik, M., Kelsh, R., Winkler, C. (2013). Anaplastic lymphoma kinase is required for neurogenesis in the developing central nervous system of zebrafish. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63757.
  10. Lim, J.W., Yao, S., Graf, M., Winkler, C., Yang, D.W. (2013). Structure-function analysis of full-length midkine reveals novel residues important for heparin-binding and zebrafish embryogenesis. Biochemical Journal 451, 407-415.
  11. To, T.T., Witten, P.E., Renn, J., Bhattacharya, D., Huysseune, A., Winkler, C.  (2012). RANKL induced osteoclastogenesis leads to loss of mineralization in a Medaka osteoporosis model. Development139, 141-150.  
  12. Willems, B., Buettner, A., Huysseune, A., Renn, J., Witten, P.E., Winkler, C. (2012). Conditional ablation of osteoblasts in Medaka. Developmental Biology364, 128-137.
  13. Tran, L.D., Hino, H., Quach, H., Lim, S., Shindo, A., Mimori-Kiyosue, Y., Mione, M., Ueno, N., Winkler, C., Hibi, M., Sampath, K. (2012). Dynamic Microtubules at the Vegetal Cortex Predict the Embryonic Axis in Zebrafish. Development139, 3644-3652.
  14. Yin, J., Brocher, J., Fischer, U., Winkler, C. (2011). Mutant Prpf31 causes pre-mRNA splicing defects and rod photoreceptor cell degeneration in a zebrafish model for Retinitis pigmentosa. Molecular Neurodegeneration 6:56.
  15. Linder, B., Dill, H., Hirmer, A., Brocher, J., Lee G.K., Mathavan, S., Bolz, H.J., Winkler, C., Laggerbauer, B., Fischer, U. (2011). Systemic splice factor deficiency causes tissue-specific defects: A zebrafish model for Retinitis pigmentosa. Human Molecular Genetics20, 368-377.