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 and analgesia. 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: 

--> Identification of distinct hypothalamic regions active in torpor regulation with immunohistochemistry

--> Microanatomical laser dissection of most active hypothalamic regions during torpor 

--> Gene expression analysis of signalling mechanisms with mRNA-Seq (NGS)

--> Anatomical verification and location of candidate genes with in situ hybridization

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


Diedrich V, Haugg E, Dreier C, Herwig A (2020) What can seasonal models teach us about energy balance? J Endocrinol 244(2): R17-R32 https://doi.org/10.1530/JOE-19-0502

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 https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.232876

Haugg E, Herwig A & Diedrich V (2021) Body Temperature and Activity Adaptation of Short Photoperiod-Exposed Djungarian Hamsters (Phodopus sungorus): Timing, Traits, and Torpor. Front Physiol. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2021.626779



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

Nov 2021: NeuroCon - Science+ 2021 (jNWG), Günzburg


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


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)

"Excel-Aufbaukurs" for students of the Institute of Neurobiology (course April 2019, e-course March 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 - Verarbeitung großer Datenmengen" for students of Life Sciences via btS Ulm (e-course Jul 2021)

upcoming - lab course "Sinne" in bachelor module "Physiologie - Neurobiologie" (Nov 2021 - Feb 2022) 

upcoming - "Excel - Verarbeitung großer Datenmengen" for students of Life Sciences via btS Erlangen (e-course Nov 2021)

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) in the working group of Prof. Dr. Annika Herwig

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

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



Version of 11.10.2021