Dr Steffen Scholpp
Associate Professor, Cell and Developmental Biology


Tissue development is a key process for life starting from the earliest embryonic stages during which cells differentiate into later organs composing an entire body. An essential component for these developmental processes but also for tissue regeneration and stem cell regulation is the communication of cells by chemical signalling. The highly conserved family of Wnt proteins represents important regulators of cell behaviour, tissue development and homeostasis by inducing responses in a concentration dependent manner. We identified a novel way of spreading of Wnt proteins in vertebrates: Wnt molecules are mobilized on specific cell protrusions so-called cytonemes. These specialized signalling filopodia transmit signal proteins between communicating cells and allow a high degree of control of propagation speed, direction and concentration of the transmitted ligand. The signalling molecules are delivered directly to the receiving cells by a direct-contact model and parameters such as cytoneme length or speed of filopodia formation dictate local Wnt concentration. At the Living Systems Institute, we collaborate with biophysicists using super-resolution microscopy to describe these signalling processes in a quantitative way on a molecular level. As it is very difficult to determine the specific impact of individual parameters in a complex biological system by a purely experimental approach, we interact with mathematicians using computational modelling. Together, we develop a robust mathematical model for the distribution of signal molecules on the basis of signalling filopodia. Due to the conserved nature of vertebrate cell behaviour our results will be relevant to Wnt signalling during human embryonic development and could suggest novel vulnerabilities to Wnt-dependent diseases – a prerequisite for the development of novel therapeutics.

Living Systems Institute Profile


2003 PhD Neurobiology (Hons., summa cum laude), University of Heidelberg, Germany


2017-present Associate Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, Biosciences, University of Exeter, UK

2009-2016 Emmy-Noether group leader (Assistant Professor) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Germany

2004-2009 Postdoctoral Research Fellow with Andrew Lumsden, MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology, King’s College London, UK

2003-2004 Postdoctoral Research Associate with M. Brand, Max Planck-Institute of Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), Dresden, Germany

1999-2003 PhD in Neurobiology (Laboratory of M. Brand), University of Heidelberg, Germany and Max Planck-Institute of Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), Dresden, Germany

Contact details

Internal tel7451
Tel+44 (0) 1392 727451
AddressLiving Systems Institute
University of Exeter
Stocker Road

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