Karen Ocorr, Ph.D.

Karen Ocorr's Research Focus

Actin Cytoskeleton, Calcium Signaling, Cardiovascular Biology, Cell Signaling, Extracellular Matrix, Fuel Metabolism, Integrins, Metabolic Networks, Phosphorylation, Stress Response Pathways
Aging-Related Diseases, Aging, Atrial Fibrillation, Cardiac Fibrosis, Cardiomyopathies, Heart Disease, Metabolic Syndrome, Molecular Biology
Biophysiology, Cellular and Molecular Imaging, Fluorescence Microscopy, Gene Silencing, Genetics, Ion Channels, In vivo Modeling, Live Imaging, Microarrays, Microscopy and Imaging, Molecular Genetics, RNA Interference (RNAi), Semi-automated Optical Heartbeat Analysis (SOHA), Systems Biology, Transgenic Organisms
Cardiovascular System, Heart
Drosophila, Larval Zebrafish Heart, Zebrafish

The Ocorr Lab is investigating the cellular and molecular basis of adult heart function and cardiomyopathies using the genetic model system Drosophila.

We use functional, electrophysiological, biochemical and immunohistochemical techniques that allow us to examine the roles of genes and gene products in cardiac channelopathies and stress-related cardiomyopathies.

Our lab pioneered the development of a novel methodology (Semi-automatic Optical Heartbeat Analysis, SOHA) that permits the quantification of heartbeat parameters in model systems with small hearts.

Using this system we have identified several ion channels in the fly heart that play prominent roles in repolarization of the human heart and cause arrhythmia in both the fly and in humans when mutated. We also have developed a number of other disease models including a diabetic-like cardiomyopathy induced by high sugar diet and hypoxia-induced cardiomyopathy.

Recently we have begun collaborations with NASA (by winning a Space Florida International Space Station Research Competition). We are using the fly to uncover the molecular/cellular basis for cardiac and muscle atrophy in astronauts exposed to extended periods of microgravity despite extensive exercise regimes aboard the ISS. Our flies were launched aboard SpaceX 3 for a month-long exposure to micro-gravity.


fruit fly heart

Karen Ocorr's Research Report

My lab is working to understand the cellular and molecular basis of heart disease. One project is focused on the genetic basis of Atrial Fibrillation. This project is a collaborative one with the lab of Alexandre Colas. We are combining two model systems, the fly in my lab and human induced cardiomyocytes in his lab, to identify AFib genes that have been implicated from patient studies. Another project focuses on the role of metabolism in cardiomyopathies. This is because obesity and metabolic syndrome are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. We are studying the role of a key metabolic signaling molecule in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. A separate effort is focused on the role of gravity in heart function. These studies will provide important information for future habitants of colonies on the moon and Mars. But they are also relevant to patients who are bedridden and to patients with muscle wasting (sarcopenia).

Karen Ocorr's Bio

After a successful teaching career at the University of Michigan I have had the privilege to "reboot" my research career at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute where I have had the opportunity to develop novel methodologies to understand cardiomyopathy. I have also had the opportunity to work with NASA scientists to do experiments on the International Space Station.


B.A., Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA, Biology 
Ph.D., Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, Neuroscience NIMH 
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Texas Medical School, Houston, TX, Neuroscience NIMH 
Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, Neurochemistry

Prestigious funding awards or major collaborative grants

2015 – 2020 NIH R01 HL132241-01A1 - Using Drosophila genetics to identify molecular links between ion channel dysfunction and pathological cardiac remodeling. (PI) 2013-2018 NASA NRA #NNH12ZTT001N – The effects of microgravity on cardiac function, structure and gene expression using the Drosophila model. (Co-I)

Honor and awards

2014: Space Florida International Space Station Research Competition Winner – Co-investigator - One of three Basic Research proposals selected for launch aboard SpaceX3 - Mission completed, live flies returned on May 18,2014
2001: Excellence in Teaching Award, University of Michigan
1997: Excellence in Teaching Award, University of Michigan
1986-1988: National Institute of Mental Health Fellowship
1983-1985: National Institute of Mental Health Fellowship
1981: Sigma Xi Research Award 1980 MBL Scholarship, Neural Systems and Behavior Course
1971-1975: National Merit Scholarship, Lehigh University

Board Appointments

2018 - present:  Board member American Society for Gravitational and Space Research

Islet clusters in the developing pancreas


Prolonged Exposure to Microgravity Reduces Cardiac Contractility and Initiates Remodeling in Drosophila.

Walls S, Diop S, Birse R, Elmen L, Gan Z, Kalvakuri S, Pineda S, Reddy C, Taylor E, Trinh B, Vogler G, Zarndt R, McCulloch A, Lee P, Bhattacharya S, Bodmer R, Ocorr K

Cell Rep 2020 Dec 8 ;33(10):108445

A new method for detection and quantification of heartbeat parameters in Drosophila, zebrafish, and embryonic mouse hearts.

Fink M, Callol-Massot C, Chu A, Ruiz-Lozano P, Izpisua Belmonte JC, Giles W, Bodmer R, Ocorr K

Biotechniques 2009 Feb ;46(2):101-13

Age-dependent electrical and morphological remodeling of the Drosophila heart caused by hERG/seizure mutations.

Ocorr K, Zambon A, Nudell Y, Pineda S, Diop S, Tang M, Akasaka T, Taylor E

PLoS Genet 2017 May ;13(5):e1006786

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Conserved Role of the Large Conductance Calcium-Activated Potassium Channel, KCa1.1, in Sinus Node Function and Arrhythmia Risk.

Pineda S, Nikolova-Krstevski V, Leimena C, Atkinson AJ, Altekoester AK, Cox CD, Jacoby A, Huttner IG, Ju YK, Soka M, Ohanian M, Trivedi G, Kalvakuri S, Birker K, Johnson R, Molenaar P, Kuchar D, Allen DG, van Helden DF, Harvey RP, Hill AP, Bodmer R, Vogler G, Dobrzynski H, Ocorr K, Fatkin D

Circ Genom Precis Med 2021 Feb 25 ;

Prolonged Exposure to Microgravity Reduces Cardiac Contractility and Initiates Remodeling in Drosophila.

Walls S, Diop S, Birse R, Elmen L, Gan Z, Kalvakuri S, Pineda S, Reddy C, Taylor E, Trinh B, Vogler G, Zarndt R, McCulloch A, Lee P, Bhattacharya S, Bodmer R, Ocorr K

Cell Rep 2020 Dec 8 ;33(10):108445

Patient-specific genomics and cross-species functional analysis implicate LRP2 in hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

Theis JL, Vogler G, Missinato MA, Li X, Nielsen T, Zeng XI, Martinez-Fernandez A, Walls SM, Kervadec A, Kezos JN, Birker K, Evans JM, O'Byrne MM, Fogarty ZC, Terzic A, Grossfeld P, Ocorr K, Nelson TJ, Olson TM, Colas AR, Bodmer R

Elife 2020 Oct 2 ;9

Systemic and heart autonomous effects of sphingosine Δ4 desaturase deficiency in lipotoxic cardiac pathophysiology.

Walls SM, Chatfield DA, Ocorr K, Harris GL, Bodmer R

Dis Model Mech 2020 Aug 14 ;13(8)

Overexpression of Kif1A in the Developing Drosophila Heart Causes Valvar and Contractility Defects: Implications for Human Congenital Heart Disease.

Akasaka T, Ocorr K, Lin L, Vogler G, Bodmer R, Grossfeld P

J Cardiovasc Dev Dis 2020 Jun 2 ;7(2)

Silencing of CCR4-NOT complex subunits affects heart structure and function.

Elmén L, Volpato CB, Kervadec A, Pineda S, Kalvakuri S, Alayari NN, Foco L, Pramstaller PP, Ocorr K, Rossini A, Cammarato A, Colas AR, Hicks AA, Bodmer R

Dis Model Mech 2020 Jul 20 ;13(7)

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