Sensorimotor Circuits and Plasticity

Sensorimotor Circuits and Plasticity

The nervous system controls the body through neural circuits, which are specialized to perform different functions. To understand how the nervous system is formed and how it functions is a monumental task where studies of smaller, well-defined circuits can provide insight into the significance of individual nerve cells, the importance of connections between nerve cells and the signal paths between nerve cells that constitute neural circuits.

Therefore, we study how neural circuits in the brain and spinal cord control coordination of different gait patterns. Zebrafish motor networks in the spinal cord generate rhythmic signals to the muscles and coordinate right/left alternation, which we use in our studies to correlate cell activity to specific behaviors. We also investigate the neuromuscular synapse, the link between nerve and muscle that is a prerequisite for controlling muscles.

Similarly, nerve circuits that receive information about our environment serve as a good starting point to understand neural networks. We investigate nerves and nerve cells that convey pain and itch to better understand how these signals relay these impressions and what goes wrong when we feel too much itching or pain.

Vision, and in particular, motion vision, is used by people to navigate in new environments, go straight ahead, or catch a ball. Motion vision is similarly coded in many insects, and we use this to understand the mechanisms behind motion vision better. We also investigate how the eye can be damaged by light from the sun and other light sources, if vision develops normally when prematurely born and find risk factors for glaucoma.

Fascinating nerve circuits are thus found in the retina of the eye and also in the hippocampus where long-term memories are formed. We investigate how the components of these circuits have developed and changed during the evolution of vertebrate animals. With light-based techniques (optogenetics) we study how specific nerve cells regulate the activity of the hippocampus to understand learning and memory at the nerve circuit level.