Full Name
Karen Echeverri

Associate Scientist

Karen Echeverri Headshot
Contact Information
Ph.D., Zoology, Trinity College, Dublin Ireland and Max Planck Institute, Dresden, Germany, 2003
BSc. Hons. Biochemistry, National University of Ireland Galway, 1998
MBL Affiliation

Throughout human life, many cells such as hair follicles and certain tissues such as liver can be continuously replaced to maintain tissue integrity in response to normal, daily wear and tear. However, the human response to more serious tissue damage, such as acute damage to limbs or to the spinal cord, is limited to relatively simple wound healing, whereby collagenous scar tissue fills the injury site, assuring the tissue’s structural integrity but often resulting in a debilitating loss of functional activity. While humans do exhibit some very limited regenerative capacity (e.g. liver), other animals exhibit sometimes astonishing regenerative ability.

Salamanders show the highest diversity in being able to regenerate limbs, tail, heart, eyes and jaw, and in addition can repair lesions in the brain and heal all wounds without forming scar tissue.

Our group has three main areas of research; the first is to understand at the molecular and cellular level how salamanders can regenerate a fully functional spinal cord after injury. In particular we focus on how the neural progenitor cells react to an injury signal and are activated to repair the lesion instead of forming inhibitory scar tissue. We aim to understand how these stem cells are guided to replace the correct number of lost neurons and reconnect the circuits to regain motor and sensory control.

The second main focus of the lab is on scar free wound healing. Axolotls regenerate without the formation of scar tissue. Our longstanding work on the “axolotl” salamander, the champion among such species, is identifying critical molecules, regulatory pathways and cellular processes underlying scar-free regeneration. We use transcriptional profiling and in vivo imaging to understand which cells respond to the injury signal, what the potential of these cells is and where cells come from to heal the wounds scar free.

The third area of research in the lab is the evolution of regenerative ability. We are using the local invertebrate sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis that has the natural ability to regenerate and adapt quickly to changing environmental conditionsto interrogate pathways conserved in invertebrates and vertebrate species, to begin to elucidate regulatory networks necessary to initiate and terminate regenerative growth.

Selected Publications

Sarah E. Walker, Keith Z. Sabin, Micah D. Gearhart, Kenta Yamamoto, Karen Echeverri
Regulation of stem cell identity by miR-200a during spinal cord regeneration
bioRxiv 2021.07.21.453081; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.07.21.453081

Arenas Gómez, C.M., Sabin, K.Z., and Echeverri K.
Wound healing across the animal kingdom: Crosstalk between the immune system and the extracellular matrix. 
Developmental Dynamics 249(7):834-846 (2020)  https://doi:10.1002/dvdy.178

Echeverri K.
The various routes to functional regeneration in the central nervous system.
Commun Biol. 2020 Jan 29;3(1):47. doi: 10.1038/s42003-020-0773-z.PMID: 31996777 

Sabin KZ, Jiang P, Gearhart MD, Stewart R, Echeverri K.
AP-1cFos/JunB/miR-200a regulate the pro-regenerative glial cell response during axolotl spinal cord regeneration.
Commun Biol. 2019 Mar 6;2:91. doi: 10.1038/s42003-019-0335-4. eCollection 2019.PMID: 30854483 

Karen Echeverri and Ricardo M. Zayas
Regeneration: From cells to tissues to organisms
Dev. Biology, Volume 433, Issue 2, 15 January 2018, Pages 109–110

Erickson JR and Echeverri K.
Learning from model systems: the circuitous road to scar free wound healing.
Dev. Biology, Volume 433, Issue 2, 15 January 2018, Pages 144-154

Erickson JR, Gearhart MD, Honson DD, Reid TA, Gardner MK, Moriarity BS, Echeverri K.
A novel role for SALL4 during scar free wound healing in axolotl. 
Nature Regenerative Medicine, 8 December 2016, doi:10.1038/npjregenmed.2016.16