Research Area B — Network Level

The sensory and neuronal basis of integrative brain functions on a network level

Coordinators: Prof. Matthias Bethge, Prof. Cornelius Schwarz, Prof. Peter Thier

Systems neuroscience at the network and behavioural level has been a traditional stronghold of Tübingen neuroscience. To develop this field further, we have focused on three specific goals for the current funding period: establishing new links between systems neuroscience and cellular and molecular neuroscience, strengthening research into executive functions, and promoting theoretical approaches in neuroscience. We have achieved these goals by fostering interactions among the existing groups and by successfully filling several new professorships, two of them financed by the CIN: one in Computational Neuroscience (Bethge), and a second in Systems Neurophysiology (Schwarz). The latter offers links to studies of complex behaviour together with monitoring or manipulating cellular, molecular and genetic mechanisms (covered in more detail in Area C). The added expertise in theoretical neuroscience has helped to establish the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, funded by the German Federal Government, which additionally fosters interactions between experimentalists and theoreticians at the CIN. Computational neuroscience has recently received a further boost by the recruitment of Jan Benda as the new professor of Neuroethology at the Faculty of Science. The direction of cognitive neuroscience has been strengthened substantially by the appointment of Andreas Nieder to work on executive functions as the new chair of Animal Physiology at the Faculty of Science and by Jan Born to work on learning and memory to the chair in Medical Psychology and Endocrinology.

A significant part of the work at the network level has dealt with problems in early sensory areas and information processing in the neocortex, and its aberrations in disease, an interest that has received a substantial boost not least by a number of excellent appointments at the junior level. Additionally, however, it is crucial to understand how the multitude of cortico-subcortical interactions constitute an integrative part of cortical processing. Although successful research on the cerebro-cerebellar system has been carried out in Tübingen in the past, an adequate consideration of other key sub-cortical structures such as the basal ganglia, brainstem or spinal cord has by and large been lacking. Strengthening research on these structures and their interactions with the cerebral cortex is the primary goal of Area B. This research produces new perspectives on movement disorders and related problems with potentially very valuable implications for approaches to neuro-rehabilitation (to be developed in Area N).