Electron Microscopy Platform

Research focus

The VIB Electron Microscopy Platform facilitates ultrastructural imaging of biological samples as a service to the research community and provides individual training in scanning and transmission electron microscopy and in sample preparation. Advanced light microscopy has been extensively used to study the dynamics of biological processes in cells and tissues under different conditions. Despite the progress in cellular and molecular biology tools there is still a large gap in our understanding of fundamental cellular events and processes at the ultrastructural level. The emerging technology of 3D serial electron microscopy offers a new, highly systematic approach to imaging and will revolutionize cell and organelle level research. The Platform offers a variety of methods highly customizable to the individual projects’ requirements, including conventional scanning and transmission electron microscopy, immunocytochemistry, and advanced 3D methods.

My own research is focused on neuronal plasticity. Our brain consists of billions of primary cells, neurons, connected to each other by specialized contacts called synapses. Neurons transfer signals via synaptic connections to other neurons, thereby forming intricate synaptic circuits. Specificity and precision of synaptic connections is absolutely crucial to the functioning of the brain. The brain has a remarkable ability to update these circuits with new experience, a phenomenon known as plasticity, which our ability to recognize the external world, produce behavioral responses, learn, and remember information about our environment is based on. The subcellular distribution of synapses is important for the assembly, function, and plasticity, and disruption of synapse architecture has been implicated in numerous types of brain disorders. Analysis of structural changes in synaptic connections of the brain is crucial for the understanding of specific brain functions encoded by a synaptic circuit. Although there are tools to measure neuronal activity caused by the flow of signals between circuit neurons, there are still considerable complications in the direct and precise experimental measurement of local synaptic connectivity. Most of data on structural changes of connections are based on 2 dimensional light microscopy analyses. We are using a 3 dimensional electron microscopy-based approach to evaluate ultrastructural synaptic connectivity changes during plasticity.


The non-coding RNA BC1 regulates experience-dependent structural plasticity and learningBriz V* Restivo L* Pasciuto E* Juczewski K Mercaldo V Lo A Baatsen P Gunko N Borreca A Girardi T Luca R Nys J Poorthuis R Mansvelder H Fisone G Ammassari-Teule M Arckens L Krieger P Meredith R Bagni CNature Communications, 8, 293, 2017* or °: authors contributed equally
A LRRK2-Dependent EndophilinA Phosphoswitch Is Critical for Macroautophagy at Presynaptic TerminalsSoukup Sandra Kuenen Sabine Vanhauwaert Roeland Manetsberger Julia Hernandez Diaz Sergio Swerts Jef Schoovaerts Nils Vilain Sven Gunko Natalia Vints Katlijn Geens Ann De Strooper Bart Verstreken PatrikNEURON, 92, 829-844, 2016
Experience-dependent remodeling of basket cell networks in the dentate gyrusPieraut S Gunko N. Sando R Dang W Rebboah E Panda S Madisen L Zeng H Maximov ANEURON, 84, 107-22, 2014
Corticotropin-releasing factor and urocortin regulate spine and synapse formation: structural basis for stress-induced neuronal remodeling and pathologyGunko N. Swinny J. D Kalicharan D Jafari S Corteen N Seifi M Bakels R Van Der Want J. JMOLECULAR PSYCHIATRY, 18, 86-92, 2013
HDAC4 governs a transcriptional program essential for synaptic plasticity and memorySando R* Gunko N* Pieraut S Liao L Yates J Maximov ACELL, 151, 821-34, 2012* or °: authors contributed equally

Job openings


Nobel prize 2017 for cryo-electron microscopy

05/10/2017 - ​The Nobel prize for Chemistry 2017 went to 3 investigators (Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson) whose scientific contributions have led to our current ability to determine the 3D-structure of biomolecules by cryo-electron microscopy.

Natalia Gunko

Natalia Gunko

Research area(s)

Model organism(s)


PhD: Univ. of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands, 2003-07
Postdoc: Univ. of California, San Diego, USA, 2007-11
Postdoc: The Scripps Research Institute, USA, 2011-12
Staff Scientist/Core Manager: A*Star, Inst. of Molecular and Cell Biology, Singapore; 2012-15
VIB Expert Technologist since 2016

Contact Info

VIB-KU Leuven Center for Brain & Disease ResearchO&N 4, 6e verdCampus GasthuisbergHerestraat 49, bus 602 3000 LEUVENRoute description