Karen Echeverri

karen-echeverriKaren Echeverri
Associate Scientist
Email Karen Echeverri

University College Galway, Ireland, BSc. Hons. Biochemistry
Trinity College and Max Planck Institute, Germany, Ph.D. Zoology


Research Statement

Antibody staining staining showing progenitor cells diving (green) in the regenerating axolotl spinal cord.

Antibody staining staining showing progenitor cells diving (green) in the regenerating axolotl spinal cord.

Throughout human life, many cells such as hair follicles and certain tissues such as liver can be continuously replaced to maintain tissue integrity in response to normal, daily wear and tear. However, the human response to more serious tissue damage, such as acute damage to limbs or to the spinal cord, is limited to relatively simple wound healing, whereby collagenous scar tissue fills the injury site, assuring the tissue’s structural integrity but often resulting in a debilitating loss of functional activity. While humans do exhibit some very limited regenerative capacity (e.g. liver), other animals exhibit sometimes astonishing regenerative ability.

Salamanders show the highest diversity in being able to regenerate limbs, tail, heart, eyes and jaw and in addition can repair lesions in the brain and heal all wounds without forming scar tissue.

Our group has three main areas of research; the first is to understand at the molecular and cellular level how salamanders can regenerate a fully functional spinal cord after injury. In particular we focus on how the neural progenitor cells react to an injury signal and are activated to repair the lesion instead of forming inhibitory scar tissue. We aim to understand how these stem cells are guided to replace the correct number of lost neurons and reconnect the circuits to regain motor and sensory control.

The Axolotl: champion of regeneration, capable of regenerating multiple body parts including limbs, brain tissue, heart and spinal cord.

The Axolotl: champion of regeneration, capable of regenerating multiple body parts including limbs, brain tissue, heart and spinal cord.

The second main focus of the lab is on scar free wound healing. Axolotls regenerate without the formation of scar tissue. Our longstanding work on the “axolotl” salamander, the champion among such species, is identifying critical molecules, regulatory pathways and cellular processes underlying scar-free regeneration. We use transcriptional profiling and in vivo imaging to understand which cells respond to the injury signal, what the potential of these cells is and where cells come from to heal the wounds scar free.

The third area of research in the lab is the evolution of regenerative ability. We are using the local invertebrate sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis that has the natural ability to regenerate; to interrogate pathways conserved in invertebrates and vertebrate species. These findings will pave the way to begin to elucidate regulatory networks necessary to initiate and terminate regenerative growth and shed light on why some species can regenerate and others cannot.

Selected Publications

Karen Echeverri and Ricardo M. Zayas Regeneration: From cells to tissues to organisms Dev. Biology, Volume 433, Issue 2, 15 January 2018, Pages 109–110

Erickson JR and Echeverri K. Learning from model systems: the circuitous road to scar free wound healing. Dev. BiologyVolume 433, Issue 2, 15 January 2018, Pages 144-154

Erickson JR, Gearhart MD, Honson DD, Reid TA, Gardner MK, Moriarity BS, Echeverri K.A novel role for SALL4 during scar free wound healing in axolotl. Nature Regenerative Medicine, 8 December 2016, doi:10.1038/npjregenmed.2016.16

Diaz Quiroz J, Li Y, Aparicio C and Echeverri K.  Development of 3D matrix for modeling mammalian spinal cord injury in vitro. Neural Regeneration Research, November 2016,Volume 11,Issue 11. doi: 10.4103/1673-5374.194751

Sabin K, Ferreira T, Essig J, Rudasill S and Echeverri K. Dynamic membrane depolarization is an early regulator of glial cell response to spinal cord injury. Dev Biol. 2015 Dec 1;408(1):14-25. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2015.10.012. PMID:26477559, PMCID: PMC5096653.

Pai VP, Martyniuk CJ, Echeverri K, Sundelacruz S, Kaplan, D 1Levin M Genome-wide analysis reveals conserved transcriptional responses downstream of resting potential change in Xenopus embryos, axolotl regeneration, and human mesenchymal cell differentiation. Regeneration (Oxf). 2015 Nov 26;3(1):3-25. doi: 10.1002/reg2.48.PMID:27499876

Gearhart, M., Erickson, J., Walsh, A. & Echeverri, K. Identification of Conserved and Novel MicroRNAs during Tail Regeneration in the Mexican Axolotl. International Journal of Molecular Sciences 16, 22046-22061, doi:10.3390/ijms160922046 (2015).

Erickson JR and Echeverri K. In vivo modulation and quantification of microRNAs during tail regeneration.  Methods Mol Biol. 2015; 1290:159-67. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-2495-0_13. PMID: 25740485