Neurodevelopment and disease mechanisms

We use zebrafish to study the role of risk genes for psychiatric disorders with a particular focus on their relevance during embryonic development. Experimental manipulations of selected risk genes are performed by several means and the effects are observed on molecular, structural and behavioral levels.


Substantial progress has been made in the identification of risk genes for neurodevelopmental psychiatric disorders such as autism and ADHD. However, the physiological function of most risk genes and their role in disease mechanisms still remains elusive for most psychiatric disorders.

Relevance of risk genes

In our research group, we address basic questions regarding the function of risk genes during brain development. We investigate their expressions in relation to specific types of neurons, their role in biological pathways with relevance for brain development and finally how they impact on brain structure, function and behavior.


For our research we use zebrafish, a versatile vertebrate model organism. The zebrafish is an ideal model system to address such questions. Numerous genetic tools to manipulate gene activity and to visualize neurons and brain structures are available. The transparency and comparatively small size of the developing zebrafish brain allows imaging of an intact brain by light microscopy.

Effects on behavior

Moreover, procedures to monitor and quantify behaviors such as locomotor activity, day-night activity, social interaction and approach and avoidance are established. Thereby we explore the role of risk genes for neurodevelopmental psychiatric disorders at molecular, structural and behavioral levels. We are using a combination of molecular biology, pharmacology, imaging and behavior testing.

Research Team

PD Christina Lillesaar PhD

Dr. rer. nat. Carsten Drepper
Kim Koch
Teresa Lüffe
Sandhya Mani
Rishi Sayanthakumar

Selected Publications

Lillesaar C, Stigloher C, Tannhäuser B, Wullimann M F, Bally-Cuif L
Axonal projections originating from raphe serotonergic neurons in the developing and adult zebrafish, Danio rerio, using transgenics to visualize raphe-specific pet1 expression.
The Journal of Comparative Neurology, 2009 Jan; 512:158-182
Go to publication

Lillesaar C
The serotonergic system in fish
Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy, 2011 Jul, 41: 294-308
Go to publication

Bosco A, Bureau C, Affaticati P, Gaspar P, Bally-Cuif L, Lillesaar C
Development of hypothalamic serotoninergic neurons requires Fgf signalling via the ETS-domain transcription factor Etv5b
Development, 2013, 140:372-484
Go to publication

Reuter I, Knaup S, Romanos M, Lesch K-P, Drepper C, Lillesaar C
Developmental exposure to acetaminophen does not induce hyperactivity in zebrafish larvae.
Journal of Neural Transmission, 2016 April; 123:841-848.
Go to publication

Lechermeier C G, Zimmer F, Lüffe T, Lesch K-P, Romanos M, Lillesaar C, Drepper C
Transcript Analysis of Zebrafish GLUT3 Genes, slc2a3a and slc2a3b, Define Overlapping as Well as Distinct Expression Domains in the Zebrafish (Danio rerio) Central Nervous System
Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, 2019 Aug; 12:199
Go to publication


Portraitfoto von Dr. Christina Lillesaar

PD Dr. rer. nat.
Christina Lillesaar

Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin



Klinik und Poliklinik für KJPPP
Poliklinik und Privatambulanz
+49 931 201-78600

Zentrale Dienstnummer & Dienstarzt
+49 931 201-78888

Pforte Zentrum für Psychische Gesundheit
+49 931 201-76050

Sekretariat Tagesklinik
+49 931 250-8040

Prof. Dr. Marcel Romanos
+49 931 201-78000

Stellvertretende Direktion
PD Dr. Regina Taurines
+49 931 201-78010


Direktion / Prof. Dr. Marcel Romanos

PD Dr. Regina Taurines


+49 931 201-78040

+49 931 201-78620


Klinik und Poliklinik für Kinder- und Jugendpsychiatrie, Psychosomatik und Psychotherapie des Universitätsklinikums | Margarete-Höppel-Platz 1 | 97080 Würzburg | Deutschland