Synapses – Circuits – Plasticity
One of the most fundamental properties of the brain is its ability to adapt rapidly to environmental changes. This is mainly achieved by changes in the connectivity between individual nerve cells. Synapses, the connection elements between neurons, can be modulated in their strength by a variety of different mechanisms, a process called "synaptic plasticity".
We investigate the fundamental principles of synaptic plasticity at a number of different levels, ranging from molecular approaches to studies of the intact nervous system. Recent results from our lab have shown that synaptic plasticity is accompanied by structural changes of dendritic spines, they have demonstrated that these structural changes are the reason why re-learning of information acquired early in life is comparatively easy, and they have revealed in how far the detailed structure of functional maps in the visual cortex is due to experience in the outside world.
During development, specific connections among neurons within the visual cortex are established. However, even in the adult brain, this network is able to adapt to new demands. We investigate the cellular mechanisms enabling this plasticity in the developing and adult brain.
The specific wiring of neurons in the cerebral cortex is considered to be the basis for sensory processing and other cognitive functions. We study how single neurons are wired in the cortical circuit, what computations they perform, what properties their synaptic connections have and how plasticity, e.g. learning, changes circuit wiring and function.
Novel information not only modifies nerve cells within the same brain, but can also influence neurons in the brain of other individuals. We study this so-called social information transmission by investigating the impact of mice pup-calls on the structure and function of neurons in the brain of mothers and co-carers.
It is known, that learning leads to the formation of new synaptic connections between individual nerve cells. Yet it is unclear whether these structural changes are specific enough to take part in forming a neuronal ‘memory trace’. We study both in vivo and in vitro how learning-induced changes in the response properties of individual neurons and synapses relate to changes in their structure.