Stein Aerts Lab

Research focus

​We are interested in decoding the genomic regulatory code and understanding how genomic regulatory programs drive dynamic changes in cellular states, both in normal and disease processes. Transcriptional states emerge from complex gene regulatory networks. The nodes in these networks are cis-regulatory regions such as enhancers and promoters, where usually multiple transcription factors bind to regulate the expression of their target genes.

Our lab is a “humid” lab, half wet and half dry. In the wet-lab we apply high-throughput technologies to decipher enhancer logic and map gene regulatory networks, such as RNA-seq for transcriptomics and ATAC-seq and ChIP-seq for epigenomic profiling. To test the activities of promoters and enhancers we use massively parallel enhancer-reporter assays. Finally, to map high-resolution landscapes of possible cellular states we use single-cell transcriptomics and single-cell epigenomics.

We are interested in a variety of biological problems, and use as main model system the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, with a focus on the retina and the brain. Our fly lab houses multiple Drosophila species, natural inbred strains, and mutant lines, allowing to incorporate evolutionary models, natural variation (Quantitative Trait Loci), and disease mutations in our studies of the genomic regulatory code.

We are also interested in deciphering regulatory programs of cellular state switches in mammalian systems, including human and mouse. To study the cis-regulatory code in mammalian genomes we mainly use cancer as model system. During cancer progression, gene expression profiles of cancer cells can change, causing regulatory heterogeneity in tumors. This heterogeneity has an important impact on therapy response, since some cell states may be more or less vulnerable to a particular drug therapy.

In our dry lab we use bioinformatics methods for network inference and computational modeling of enhancers, such as Random Forest machine learning and Deep neural networks. Some of the bioinformatics methods we have developed and made available to the community include TOUCAN, ENDEAVOUR, iRegulon and i-cisTarget.


Multiplex enhancer-reporter assays uncover unsophisticated TP53 enhancer logicVerfaillie A, Svetlichnyy D, Imrichova H, Davie K, Fiers M, Kalender Atak Z, Hulselmans G, Christiaens V, Aerts SGENOME RESEARCH, 26, 882-95, 2016
Decoding the regulatory landscape of melanoma reveals TEADS as regulators of the invasive cell stateVerfaillie A* Imrichova H* Atak Z* Dewaele M Rambow F Hulselmans G Christiaens V Svetlichnyy D Luciani F Van Den Mooter L Claerhout S Fiers M Journe F Ghanem G Herrmann C Halder G Marine J Aerts SNature Communications, 6, 6683, 2015* These authors contributed equally
Discovery of Transcription Factors and Regulatory Regions Driving In Vivo Tumor Development by ATAC-seq and FAIRE-seq Open Chromatin ProfilingDavie K* Jacobs J* Atkins M Potier D Christiaens V Halder G Aerts SPLoS Genetics, 11, e1004994, 2015* These authors contributed equally
Mapping gene regulatory networks in Drosophila eye development by large-scale transcriptome perturbations and motif inferencePotier D, Davie K, Hulselmans G, Naval Sanchez M, Haagen L, Huynh-Thu V, Koldere D, Celik A, Geurts P, Christiaens V, Aerts SCell Reports, 9, 2290-303, 2014
Comparative motif discovery combined with comparative transcriptomics yields accurate targetome and enhancer predictionsNaval-Sánchez M, Potier D, Haagen L, Sanchez M, Munck S, Van De Sande B, Casares F, Christiaens V, Aerts SGENOME RESEARCH, 23, 74-88, 2013


3 accomplished VIB Scientists receive ERC Consolidator grants

14/03/2017 - In November of 2016, three of our very own top researchers, Stein Aerts, Martin Guilliams and Rouslan Efremov were awarded Consolidator Grants, bringing the total number of such ERC grants won by VIB scientists up to 43.

ERC Consolidator Grants for three VIB scientists

30/11/2016 - The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded 3 VIB scientists a consolidator grant: Stein Aerts (VIB-KU Leuven), Martin Guilliams (VIB-UGent) and Rouslan Efremov (VIB-VUB).

Stein Aerts

Stein Aerts

Research area(s)

Model organism(s)


PhD: Dept. of Electrical Engineering (ESAT), KULeuven, Leuven, Belgium, 2004
Postdoc: VIB-KULeuven, Belgium, 2004-09
Visiting postdoc: Inst. for Developmental Biol., Luminy, Marseille, France, 2006
KULeuven Professor since 2009
VIB Group leader since September 2016

Contact Info

VIB-KU Leuven Center for Brain & Disease ResearchO&N 4, 6e verdCampus GasthuisbergHerestraat 49, bus 602 3000 LEUVENRoute description
stein.aerts-x-@-x-kuleuven.vib.bePhone: +32 16 33 07 10