UCL Institute of Ophthalmology

Prof Christiana Ruhrberg

Prof Christiana Ruhrberg

Professor of Neuronal and Vascular Biology

Institute of Ophthalmology

Faculty of Brain Sciences

Joined UCL
1st Mar 2003

Research summary

Vascular dysfunction and neovascularisation contribute to many diseases. For example, vision loss in two common eye diseases, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration. Accordingly, the study of vascular growth is of enormous clinical significance. Both physiological and pathological vascularisation have been studied extensively, and much of this work has highlighted the critical role of the vascular growth factor VEGF and its receptors. 

We have previously shown that VEGF isoforms control vascular patterning through their differential distribution in the extracellular matrix. This mechanism ensures that a well-connected vascular network forms in the brain and retina. We are presently examining the role of the extracellular matrix in VEGF isoform distribution and the role of isoform-specific VEGF receptors with the aim of identifying specific mechanisms that may be targeted by therapeutic intervention in neovascular eye disease. We also want to understand how growing blood vessels integrate into the developing brain and retina without disrupting the organisation and function of neurons and glia, and how microglia and macrophages modulate vascular growth. This knowledge will help us to develop clinical strategies aimed at repairing the vascular supply to ischemic eyes. 

To learn more about the cross talk of growing vessels with neurons, we are studying signalling pathways implicated in neuronal and vascular growth and patterning. One such candidate signalling pathway uses the transmembrane protein neuropilin 1 (NRP1), a cell surface receptor for two different types of secreted glycoproteins: an isoform of VEGF termed VEGF164 and the repulsive guidance cue SEMA3A. To understand NRP1 function, we are identifying roles for these NRP1 ligands in both blood vessels and nerves. For example, we have shown that VEGF164/NRP1 signalling controls motor neuron migration in the brain stem and retinal axon guidance at the optic chiasm. Moreover, we have found that SEMA3A/NRP1 signalling patterns the peripheral nervous system by enabling neural crest cell guidance. Other current projects focus on the development of the GnRH neurons that regulate fertility, the function of the neural crest cells that regulate vascular remodelling during embryogenesis, and lung vascular pattern formation.

Teaching summary

Christiana Ruhrberg is a co-PI and supervisor on the UCL 4-year PhD programme Cardiovascular Biomedicine . She also teaches in MSc and BSc courses at UCL: MSc Biology of Vision; MSc Cardiovascular Science; MSC Neuroscience; BSc module PHOL3004: Advanced Principles of Cellular Control ; BSc module ANAT2008: Developmental Neuroscience.


Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine
Doctorate, Doctor of Philosophy | 1997
Justus-Liebig-Universitat Giessen
First Degree, Diplom | 1992


Christiana Ruhrberg conducted her PhD research with Fiona Watt at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF; now the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute). She was named Young Cell Biologist of the Year 1996 by the British Society for Cell Biology for her work on proteins that promote epidermal barrier function. Christiana Ruhrberg received postdoctoral training in the laboratories of Robb Krumlauf at the National Institute of Medical Research to study cranial motor neuron development and then David Shima at the ICRF to elucidate molecular mechanisms of blood vessel growth. In 2003, she received the Werner-Risau-Prize for outstanding contributions to endothelial cell biology from the German Society for Cell Biology and a Career Development Award from the Medical Research Council to study neurovascular co-patterning at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology of University College London. She is now Professor of Neuronal and Vascular Biology at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, where she holds a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award to investigate neurovascular interactions in the brain and retina during development and in disease.  Christiana is also an Editor for three academic journals, PLoS One, Developmental Dynamics and the Journal of Developmental Biology. She is a contributing member of the Faculty of 1000.