Patrik Verstreken Lab

Research focus

​How does the nervous system transmit electrical pulses between neurons, and how is this process affected in neuronal disease?

We know that neurons talk to one another using small transmitter-filled synaptic vesicles that fuse with the neuronal membrane to release neurotransmitters, activating the next cell in line. While considerable progress has been made in identifying proteins present at the synapse, the role of many of them in controlling synaptic vesicle fusion, vesicle reformation at the plasma membrane and trafficking within the nerve terminal remain poorly defined. In the laboratory of neuronal communication, we address key aspects of neuronal function by employing a genetic approach using fruit flies as a model: we screen for mutations in critical genes and reveal their function by analyzing mutant phenotypes. Given the experimental advantages, flies are an ideal system to study vesicle recycling. In particular, we combine Drosophila genetics with electrophysiology, electron microscopy and live imaging of synaptic processes. The ability to apply these assays to one single type of synapse is unique and very powerful, allowing us to propose very specific functions for the proteins studied.

As a general strategy, in the lab we employ genetic screens to identify and characterize components affecting synaptic function. In one such approach we are screening the Drosophila genome by feeding flies chemical mutagens, and we use simple electrophysiological assays to isolate genes that impact the synapse. Several of the genes identified in this screen are now under investigation, and our studies continuously reveal exciting aspects of vesicle recycling and synaptic function. Interestingly, several genes that we have identified using this approach have been linked to neurological disease, including Parkinson’s disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, further underscoring the central involvement of neuronal communication in neuronal disease.

Building on this experience, in a second approach to identify novel genes that play a role in synaptic transmission, we are systematically testing genes implicated in neurological disease for defects in synaptic function or development. The ability to combine human disease phenotypes with genetic screening strategies using simple assays is relatively unique, and will provide new insights into common processes that underlie neurological disease progression and synaptic transmission. Already we are seeing a convergence of our two screen approaches, where our chemical mutagenesis screen identifies mutations in neurological disease genes, and conversely our neurological disease gene screen points to novel players in synaptic function, for example Rab7. Hence, we believe that our screen approaches are synergistic and will, when combined, shed new light on mechanisms of synaptic communication in healthy and diseased neurons.

Watch the Neuron video about the work on the role of ELP3 at the synapse:



Hsp90 Mediates Membrane Deformation and Exosome ReleaseLauwers E* Wang Y* Gallardo R Van Der Kant R Michiels E Swerts J Baatsen P Zaiter S Mcalpine S Gunko N Rousseau F Schymkowitz J Verstreken P*MOLECULAR CELL, 71, 689-702 e9, 2018* or °: authors contributed equally
Synaptogyrin-3 Mediates Presynaptic Dysfunction Induced by TauMcInnes Joseph Wierda Keimpe Snellinx An Bounti Laura Wang Yu-Chun Stancu I. C Apostolo Nuno Gevaert Kris Dewachter I. Spires-Jones T De Strooper Bart de Wit Joris Zhou Lujia Verstreken PatrikNEURON, 97, 823-835 e8, 2018
ER Lipid Defects in Neuropeptidergic Neurons Impair Sleep Patterns in Parkinson's DiseaseValadas Jorge Esposito G Vandekerkhove Dirk Miskiewicz Katarzyna Deaulmerie Liesbeth Raitano Susanna Seibler P Klein C. Verstreken PatrikNEURON, 98, 1155-1169 e6, 2018
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
Hsc70-4 Deforms Membranes to Promote Synaptic Protein Turnover by Endosomal MicroautophagyUytterhoeven V* Lauwers E* Maes I Miskiewicz K Melo M Swerts J Kuenen S Wittocx R Corthout N Marrink S Munck S Verstreken PNEURON, 88, 735-48, 2015* or °: authors contributed equally

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9 VIB researchers received funding from the Alzheimer Foundation

21/03/2019 - VIB is very grateful to the Alzheimer Research Foundation for funding the researchers received, which helps them in their quest for cures. The ​Foundation has been fighting Alzheimer's disease for years and is working on a future without dementia.

Belgian team secures million-dollar funding from Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

05/12/2018 - Today, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), the philanthropic endeavor led by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his partner Priscilla Chan, announced the launch of its Neurodegeneration Challenge Network.

Hsp90: more than just a chaperone

06/09/2018 - Researchers from Verstreken lab (VIB-KU Leuven) have identified a completely novel function for Hsp90, one of the most common & most studied proteins in our body. In addition to its well-known role as a protein chaperone, Hsp90 stimulates exosome release.

Sleep problems in Parkinson’s disease: can we fix them?

07/06/2018 - A team of researchers at VIB and KU Leuven has uncovered why people with a hereditary form of Parkinson’s disease suffer from sleep disturbances.

VIB scientists Jenny Russinova and Patrik Verstreken elected as EMBO Members

15/05/2018 - EMBO elected 62 outstanding life scientists to its membership, joining a group of more than 1800 of the best researchers in Europe and around the world.

Closing in on Tau: Researchers identify a new synaptic player in early stages of neurodegeneration

01/02/2018 - ​Tau proteins clump together to form neuronal tangles, found in patient brains of more than twenty different neurodegenerative diseases, including various forms of dementia.

Tau prevents synaptic transmission at early stage of neurodegeneration

19/05/2017 - Prof. Patrik Verstreken’s research team (VIB-KU Leuven) has now discovered how tau disrupts the functioning of nerve cells, even before it starts forming tangles. They immediately suggest a way to intervene in this process.

Novel insights confirm pivotal role of synapse in development of Parkinson’s disease

22/03/2017 - ​Roeland Vanhauwaert and Dr. Sandra-Fausia Soukup and colleagues from the Patrik Verstreken Lab (VIB-KU Leuven) modelled a new Parkinson mutation in fruit flies and in differentiated iPS cells from different patients.

The Synapse Series - How Patrik Verstreken’s basic research advances multiple fields

26/02/2017 - ​Patrik Verstreken (VIB-KU Leuven) specializes in brain research, with a particular focus on synapses. In various brain disorders, these junctions between nerve cells play a pivotal role.

Mitochondrial lipids as potential targets in early onset Parkinson’s disease

10/02/2017 - ​A team of researchers led by Patrik Verstreken (VIB–KU Leuven) identified an underlying mechanism in Parkinson’s disease. Using flies, mice and patient cells, the team focused on cardiolipin organelles that produce energy

Researchers reveal how neurodegenerative diseases spread through the brain

09/11/2016 - Synapses play a pivotal role in the transmission of toxic proteins. This allows neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s to spread through the brain. This the main conclusion of new research led by Patrik Verstreken (VIB-KU Leuven).

Research uncovers a new disruption at the root of Parkinson’s disease

06/10/2016 - Leading-edge research by the team of professor Patrik Verstreken (VIB-KU Leuven) has shown for the first time that a malfunctioning stress-coping mechanism in the brain is at the root of Parkinson’s disease.

Scientists track down possible new treatment for epilepsy

26/09/2016 - Increasing the concentration of specific fats in the brain could suppress epileptic seizures. This is evident from ground-breaking research carried out by groups of Patrik Verstreken (VIB-KU Leuven) and Wim Versées (VIB-Vrije Universiteit Brussel).

VIB research presents new insights in the search for treatments for neurological diseases

18/11/2015 - A team of researchers led by professor Patrik Verstreken (VIB/KU Leuven) has exposed the fine details of a mechanism that provides more insight in the communication between neurons.

New insights could result in changes to the therapeutic strategy to combat Alzheimer’s

26/05/2015 - Scientists at VIB, KU Leuven and Janssen Pharmaceutica have demonstrated that the distribution of aggregates through the brain is facilitated by synaptic connections between brain cells.

Patrik Verstreken

Patrik Verstreken

Research area(s)

Model organism(s)


​PhD: Baylor Coll. of Medicine, Houston, US, 2003
Postdoc: Howard Hughes Medical Inst., BCM, Houston, US, 2003-06
VIB Group leader since 2007
VIB Science Director since 2017​​

Contact Info

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