Erna Magnúsdóttir

Group web-site:

Associate Professor at the Faculty of Medicine,
School of Health Sciences, University of Iceland


E-mail: erna (at)

phone: +354-525-4238

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Læknagarður, Vatnsmýrarvegi 16, 101 Reykjavik

2014-2016   Adjunct lecturer, University of Iceland, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Biomedical Science
2012-2016   Research associate, University of Iceland, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
2007-2012   Postdoctoral research at Gurdon Institute, Cambridge, England
2007            PhD, Columbia University, New York City, USA
1999            BS     University of Iceland.


The fundamental question directing our research is how the mammalian genome is interpreted in a context dependent manner leading to different cellular states. Nearly all of the cells in a multicellular organism contain the same genetic information but interpret that information differently, resulting in different cell types.

We are interested in sequence specific transcription factors and how they interact with the genetic sequence to co-ordinate different outputs in cell lineage choices and differentiation. We also study cis-regulatory regions in the mouse and human genome, how they interact with transcription factors as well as studying long range interactions of chromatin fibres in the genome.

Our model systems include multiple myeloma and Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia, where we both make use of cell culture models, as well as samples taken directly from patient bone marrow. We hope to use our expertise in transcriptional regulation to reveal the intricacies in disease progression and alteration in cellular states to increasingly aggressive tumour behavior.

We also study transcriptional regulation of mouse primordial germ cell specification and development using both tissue culture models as well as mouse embryos. We are interested in the transcriptional regulators that drive germ cell fate as well as revealing novel regulators of epigenetic reprogramming occurring in the germ line to prepare the cells for the next generation of an organism.

Erna Magnúsdóttir received her undegraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Iceland in 1999.  After working at deCode Genetics for two years she joined a doctoral program in Biological Sciences at Columbia University in New York City. There she studied transcriptional control of cell differentiation in the mouse epidermis and immune system, in the laboratory of Professor Kathryn Calame.  She received the doctorate in 2007 for her thesis on the transcription factor Blimp1 in epidermal terminal differentiation.   Erna then joined the group of Professor Azim Surani at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, to study the transcriptional contol of embryonic cell fate decisions, focusing on the the specification of primordial germ cells.  Erna joined the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Iceland as a research associate in April 2012 and has been an associate professor since 2016.


Selected publications:

Magnúsdóttir E, Surani MA. How to make a primordial germ cell. (2014) Development.  January 15, 2014 Development 141, 245-252. doi: 10.1242/dev.098269

Magnúsdóttir E, Dietmann S, Murakami K, Günesdogan U, Tang F, Bao S, Diamanti E, Lao K, Gottgens B, Azim Surani M.  A tripartite transcription factor network regulates primordial germ cell specification in mice. (2013). Nat Cell Biol. 15(8):905-15.

Grabole N., Tischler J., Leitch H.G., Hackett, J. Kim S., Tang F., Magnúsdóttir E. and Surani M.A. Prdm14 promotes germline fate and naïve pluripotency by modulating signalling and the epigenome. (2013), EMBO Reports.1–9.

Gillich, A., Bao, S., Grabole, N., Hayashi, K., Trotter, M. W. B., Pasque, V., Magnúsdóttir, E., et al. (2012). Epiblast stem cell-based system reveals reprogramming synergy of germline factors. Cell stem cell, 10(4), 425–439.

Magnúsdóttir, E., Gillich, A., Grabole, N., & Surani, M. A. (2012). Combinatorial control of cell fate and reprogramming in the mammalian germline. Current opinion in genetics & development, 5(22), 466-474

Magnúsdóttir, E., Kalachikov, S., Mizukoshi, K., Savitsky, D., Ishida-Yamamoto, A., Panteleyev, A. A., & Calame, K. (2007). Epidermal terminal differentiation depends on B lymphocyte-induced maturation protein-1. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104(38), 14988–93.

Martins, G. A., Cimmino, L., Shapiro-Shelef, M., Szabolcs, M., Herron, A., Magnusdottir, E., & Calame, K. (2006). Transcriptional repressor Blimp-1 regulates T cell homeostasis and function. Nature immunology, 7(5), 457–65.

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