Elena Haugg


During my research in the working group of Prof. Dr. Annika Herwig, I focus on the activity and gene expression of hypothalamic brain areas in our model organism. In nature, the Djungarian hamster (Phodopus sungorus) lives in the extreme conditions of the Siberian steppes. As soon as a shortening of day length to less than 13.5 hours announces winter, the nocturnal rodent starts an acclimatization period. The hamsters grow a winter fur for better insulation capacity. Food intake and consequently body weight are reduced. Furthermore, reproductive organs are regressed. These morphological and physiological changes serve as prerequisites for the expression of spontaneous daily torpor (SDT), which is a metabolic energy saving mechanism.

In laboratory conditions, shifting the dark-light-phase to winter-like conditions of 8 hours light and 16 hours darkness per day is sufficient to induce the short day acclimation, which takes about 12 weeks. Although our hamsters are not energetically challenged, because they have food and water ad libitum as well as a room temperature within their comfort range, they reduce their body mass by 25 %, grow a winter fur and express spontaneous daily torpor. 

To observe the course of the hamsters' body temperature, which is an indicator of the current metabolic state, a telemetry device is implanted under anaesthesia. During the experiment, the hamsters can do their usual hamster business, like eating, sleeping, building nests, and expressing torpor. The understanding of the torpor regulation shall be improved by comparing the brain of torpid and non-torpid short day acclimated “winter” hamsters at different time points with diverse methods as following: 

Step 1: Identification of distinct hypothalamic regions active in torpor regulation with immunohistochemistry

Step 2: Microanatomical laser dissection of most active hypothalamic regions during torpor entrance

Step 3: Gene expression analysis of signalling mechanisms with mRNA-Seq (NGS)

Step 4: Anatomical verification and location of candidate genes with in situ hybridization

My PhD project is supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Degree theses

Bachelor thesis "Simulation von Tierkämpfen" (2015), supervised by Dr. Andrea Wirmer in the working group of Prof. Dr. Harald Wolf

Master thesis "Locomotion and walking parameters of the scorpion Mesobuthus eupeus" (2017), supervised by Dr. Sarah Pfeffer in the working group of Prof. Dr. Harald Wolf

In progress: doctoral thesis “Neuroanatomical mapping of hypothalamic core areas involved in the regulation of spontaneous daily torpor in the Djungarian hamster Phodopus sungorus” (2021), supervised by Dr. Victoria Diedrich in the working group of Prof. Dr. Annika Herwig


Diedrich V, Haugg E, Dreier C, Herwig A (2020) What can seasonal models teach us about energy balance? J Endocrinol 244(2): R17-R32 


Piscitiello E, Herwig A, Haugg E, et al (2021) Acclimation of intestinal morphology and function in Djungarian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) related to seasonal and acute energy balance. J Exp Biol 224


Conference contributions

Conference, symposia and meeting contributions

Apr 2016: 9th Student Symposium on Molecular Medicine, Ulm

May 2017: 10th Student Symposium on Molecular Medicine, Ulm

Sep 2017: 110th Annual Meeting of the German Zoological Society (DZG), Bielefeld

May 2018: 11th Student Symposium on Molecular Medicine, Ulm

Mar 2019: 6th Schram Foundation Symposium, Göttingen 

Mar 2019: 13th Göttingen Meeting of the German Neuroscience Society (NWG), Göttingen

Mar 2019: European DSI User Group meeting, Berlin

May 2019: 12th Student Symposium on Molecular Medicine, Ulm

Mar 2021: 14th Göttingen Meeting of the German Neuroscience Society (NWG), virtual

Upcoming: Aug 2021: 16th International Hibernation Symposium (IHS), virtual

Upcoming: Aug 2021: WildClocks Conference - Ecology meets Chronobiology, Vienna, Austria


Apr 2018: lab animal training FELASA B / EU Tätigkeit A, Berlin Mouse Clinic for Neurology and Psychiatry, Humboldt University of Berlin

Jan 2019: seminar "Translational and experimental animal use: How we can improve?", Animal Research Center, Ulm University

Apr 2019: lecture "Qualifikationsanforderungen bei Tierversuchen", Animal Research Center, Ulm University

Sep 2019: course "GxP Intensivkurs (GLP, GCP, GMP, GVP)", Pharmaakademie GmbH & Co. KG Leipzig, Ulm University

Okt 2019: course "betrieblicher Brandschutz- und Evakuierungshelfer", Occupational Safety & Poleschner Feuerschutz GmbH, Ulm University

Feb 2021: basic e-course "Cyber Security Awareness", SoSafe GmbH / Ulm University

Mar 2021: e-workshop "Transparency in animal research - from best practice examples to a formal transparency agreement“, Informationsinitiative Tierversuche verstehen

May 2021: advanced e-course "Cyber Security Awareness", SoSafe GmbH / Ulm University


Bachelor thesis "Immunhistochemischer Nachweis der neuronalen Aktivität im suprachiasmatischen Nukleus des Dsungarischen Zwerghamsters (Phodopus sungorus) nach Lichtimpuls" (2019)

Bachelor thesis "Aktivitätsanalyse von Dsungarischen Zwerghamstern (Phodopus sungorus) im Kurztag: Vorhersage eines spontanen täglichen Torporbouts" (2019/2020)

Master thesis "Surgical recovery in Djungarian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus): effects of photoperiod and surgical invasiveness on body mass, body temperature and locomotor activity patterns" (2020)

Bachelor thesis "Definition von Torpor in Dsungarischen Zwerghamstern (Phodopus sungorus) anhand von Körpertemperatur und Stoffwechsel" (2020/2021)

"Excel-Aufbaukurs" for students of the Institute of Neurobiology (2019, 2020)



Version of 06.05.2021