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Dr. Marc Himmelbach

Organization: Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research


Otfried-Müller-Str. 27
72076 Tübingen

Phone number: +49 (0)7071 29 86580

Department: Center for Neurology, Dept. Cognitive Neurology

Area: CIN Members

Scientific topic: Neuropsychology of Action

Field of Research

Our work addresses higher order motor control deficits. With 'higher order' we mean that these deficits are not simply caused by a loss of muscular strength. Our individual research projects investigate the neural and functional foundations and conditions that are associated with such disorders.

The Impact of Object Knowledge on Visual Motor Control

We grasp a screwdriver in a specific way if we are about to use it, and in a very different way if we just want to put it aside. Despite such obvious dependencies of visual motor control on object recognition, many researchers believe that the actual control of human grasping depends almost entirely on direct visual information about object sizes, irrespective of any stored knowledge in our memory. In contrast, we have demonstrated that well-established associations, built through a long-term learning process, are powerful enough to change visual motor control. Interestingly, we have also observed some patients with impairments in controlling grasping who apparently exploited such associations for individual improvement: they are better at grasping very familiar objects in comparison with neutral geometrical ones. Our work suggests that the role of object familiarity on the control of movements has been dramatically underestimated in the past.

The Human Superior Colliculi - A Small Big Player in the Human Brain?

The superior colliculi are located at the upper brainstem of humans. They are primarily considered to be an oculomotor and sensory structure. In fact, for many 'lower' animals the superior colliculus represents the essential visual system. In contrast, in humans it seems to be only a small player in the context of large cortical networks. Over the last decade research into non-human primates has demonstrated that the superior colliculi are capable of doing more than just detecting a stimulus and executing a saccade. However, we have almost no idea whether similar functional properties might be present in the human colliculi as brainstem structures are very difficult to measure in humans. We have not only mastered the task of functional neuroimaging of the superior colliculi in humans, but in our most recent studies we have also found surprising evidence for its role in the control of arm movements. A precise and conclusive functional mapping of the colliculi in living humans may reveal that this concise structure to be good candidate regions in the framework of neuroprothetics and brain stimulation in the future.

The Impact of Proprioceptive Deficits on Visuomotor Coordination in Neurological Patients

We take it for granted that we can feel our own body, the position and movements of our own limbs. But we soon realise that it is fairly difficult to explore the current feedback from our body sensors in more detail. In fact, this is also true for experimental and clinical measures of proprioception. In this project we are faced with the same problem, as we want to investigate the actual impact of a flawed feedback from body information on the control and execution of hand movements. There are very few investigations into the influence of an impaired proprioceptive input on visually guided movements in patient populations using trustworthy measurements of proprioception. The widely-used clinical screenings are very insensitive, whereas more precise measures require unacceptable examination durations and procedures. We are currently establishing technically simple and straightforward, but nevertheless sensitive and reliable procedures to elucidate proprioceptive impairments where these were previously overlooked. These procedures will then allow us to really determine the role of proprioceptive deficits in the occurrence of visuomotor disorders such as, for example, optic ataxia.