#IDIBELLconnect: Quantitative live imaging reveals a phagocytic program that protects the early embryo

Esteban Hoijman

Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology Group



Ms Teams


Errors leading to cell death during early embryogenesis are the main cause of human preimplantation developmental failures. How the embryo copes with apoptotic cells before the differentiation of professional phagocytes that remove cell debris is still unknown. In my recent research, I have identified a program for apoptotic clearance in the early vertebrate embryo performed by the surface epithelium, the first tissue that differentiates during development. Using quantitative live imaging and transcriptome analysis of zebrafish and mouse embryos combined with mathematical modelling, I found that epithelial cells function as efficient and sensitive phagocytes. The epithelial cells establish a mechanical cooperation between cellular protrusions, extending the spatial operational range of these sessile phagocytic cells. These findings identify a new role for embryonic epithelial cells in the protection of the internal stem cells, showing the presence of immune functions at the earliest stages of embryonic development.

Hosted by Artur Llobet


I did my PhD in University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, studying genomics of epithelial apoptosis. During my stay at the Hubrecht Institute, The Netherlands, I started in the field of mechanobiology by imaging zebrafish embryos. In my first postdoc at University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, I used quantitative live imaging to analyze morphogenesis and neurogenesis of the inner ear. In my second postdoc at the Centre for Genomic Regulation, Barcelona, I integrated all my previous expertise and analyse single cell dynamics in the live early embryo, leading to my recent publication in Nature. My key publications as corresponding author are: 2021 Hoijman et al, Nature; 2015 Hoijman et al, Nature communications; 2017 Hoijman et al, eLife. I have received support from EMBO, AGAUR, Spanish ministry of Education, and British and Swiss foundations, and performed research stays at King´s College London and University of Toulouse. I was professor at University of Buenos Aires and University Pompeu Fabra, and recently joined the University of Barcelona and IDIBELL as Serra Hunter lecturer professor.

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