Clinical Neuroscience


Director, Psychiatric Hospital, Center for Mental Health

The main focus of our research is on pathomechanisms of and novel therapeutic strategies for anxiety, affective and neurodegenerative disorders utilizing a range of methodological approaches from genetics, imaging to non-invasive brain stimulation and cognitive interventions. We cooperate in the framework of the Würzburg Center of Mental Health ( ) and in networks such as the DFG-funded Collaborative Research Center SFB TR 58 on “Fear, Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders” (, the BMBF-funded “Protect-AD ( ), PGC Anxiety ( and Enigma Anxiety (

Head, Cognitive Neuroscience in Developmental Psychiatry

We investigate how young individuals learn and make decisions and how this is linked to the function and structure of their brains. On the one hand, we aim to understand the motivation underlying approach and avoidance behaviors and how they can lead to rigid and psychopathological behavioral patterns. On the other hand, we are interested in understanding flexible and goal-directed cognitive control that enables behavioral change. Our research aims to identify neurocognitive developmental trajectories to understand the transdiagnostic emergence of impulsive and compulsive symptoms. The long-term goal of our work is to test the clinical applicability of cognitive and computational neuroscience methods.

Our research methods range from questionnaires, behavioral experiments (in the lab, online and on the smartphone) to neural measures (functional und structural MRI, EEG, PET) as well as pharmacological manipulations. We use computational models of learning and decision-making (‘reinforcement learning’) for a detailed understanding of neurocognitive processes and to inform the analysis of neural data (‘computational neuroimaging’). These methods are part of the larger agenda of ‘Computational Psychiatry’.

Head, Translational Social Neuroscience

We interact with others from the moment we are born. Our research group investigates how social interactions shape human motivation, learning and behavior. Current projects focus on the neural implementation of social motivational states (e.g., empathy, collectivism, reciprocity, egoism), investigate their interactions, and test their impact on actual social behavior. Ultimately, we aim at developing tailored social interactions that can be used as a tool for the diagnosis and therapy of psychological disorders, e.g., from the anxiety disorder spectrum. We use neuroscience methods (fMRI) combined with computational modeling (Dynamic Causal Modeling, learning models), and paradigms from social psychology and behavioral economics.

Group leader, Psychophysiology & Functional Imaging

My main research interests are focused on healthy and pathological aging, neurobiological basis of anxiety disorders and experimental therapy research by using different imaging (near-infrared spectroscopy [NIRS], fMRI), psychophysiological (emotional startle modulation, skin conductance response) as well as non-invasive brain stimulation methods (tDCS, rTMS). The aging research is about predicting dementia in the elderly by imaging data in a longitudinal study over 10 years. Our anxiety research is about the functional role of the BNST in sustained fear, its genetic modulation and the effects of psychotherapy on brain activation. The experimental therapy research part investigates non-invasive brain stimulation methods to augment exposure therapy for anxiety disorder patientS or to augment neurocognitive trainings in the elderly. 

Group leader, Developmental Psychiatry

In our cell culture and biomarker group we are interested in understanding the genetic, cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying developmental and affective mental disorders, such as ADHD and bipolar disorder. To investigate this we use human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which are  derived from skin or blood samples obtained from healthy controls and patients. Excitingly, these iPSCs can then be differentiated into neuronal cells, which are usually very difficult to obtain. We can then study these neurons for differences in aspects such as gene/protein expression, metabolism and calcium signalling, with the aim of understanding disease aetiology and potentially identifying novel drug targets. Additionally, we are investigating peripheral blood-based metabolites and proteins in the search for biomarkers for differential diagnosis, early detection and therapy response.

Furthermore, we are interested in biomarkers of perinatal mental disorders in mother and fathers as well as the impact of parental perinatal mental disorders and their treatment (medication and psychotherapy) on the development of the offspring, with a focus on ADHD and affective disorders.

Director, Hospital for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics & Psychotherapy

Most psychiatric disorders have their first onset in childhood and adolescence. The aim of the research groups at our department is to understand the developmental context of neuropsychiatric disorders in terms of clinical malleability by therapy and predictability by biomarkers. We investigate the underlying mechanisms of developmental psychopathology in genetic and epigenetic approaches, we model disease in animals (zebrafish) and elucidate develomental changes in brain structure and function by innovative MRI applications. The CAPPP contributes to various national large-scale networks such as ESCAlife on ADHD (BMBF), PROTECT-AD on anxiety (BMBF), the SFB-TRR 58 on anxiety (DFG), the A-FFIPP on autism (DFG) and the TDM-VIGIL on pharmacovigilance (BfArM). 

Group leader

Group leader, Functional Genomics

Little is known about genetic variations underlying the development of anxiety disorders and how they interact with environmental factors. Therefore, the primary aim of my research is to identify novel genes and epigenetic factors for anxiety disorders by molecular genetic association studies. Secondly, I investigate how the brain is affected by genes causing anxiety disorders and how alterations on splicing, mRNA expression and methylation levels contribute to the cognitive deficits and symptoms observed in anxiety disorders. By working hand in hand with other research groups, we study the link between genes, brain structure and function, and the behavior of adult anxiety patients and healthy individuals, applying a combination of advanced genetics with the analysis of neuropsychology and neuroimaging data.

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Group leader, Department of Neurology

Autoimmune neuropathies and Parkinson’s disease are very different diseases but both are disabling conditions that are difficult to diagnose due to lack of biomarkers and knowledge on pathophysiology is limited. The aim of my research is to develop biomarkers and to investigate the underlying pathomechanisms. Our research on autoimmune neuropathies focuses on the detection of autoantibodies against paranodal proteins and their pathogenic effect. In Parkinson’s disease, we use tissue of the peripheral nervous system to study alpha-synuclein pathology.

Group leader, Department of Neurology

My research focuses on the pathophysiology of movement disorders, particularly Parkinson’s disease (PD) and dystonia by working on the following topics: 1) role of the immune system in PD – we combine immunohistochemistry with immunological techniques like FACS and cytokine analyzes and assess the therapeutic efficacy of various immunomodulatory agents in PD rodent models. 2) Central network changes in posttraumatic dystonia – we use morphological (Golgi-Cox, immuhistochemistry, autoradiography) and neurobiological techniques (RT-PCR, Western blot, microdialysis/HPLC) to assess the mechanisms underlying central network abnormalities in rodent models for dystonia. 3) Effect of neuromodulation in PD and dystonia models – we analyze the central changes induced by deep brain stimulation (DBS) on the neurobiological level by behavioral analysis and neurobiological techniques.

Head, Motor Control and Neuroimaging Division

A better classification of Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders into more homogenous subtypes, that likely reflect a coherent pathology, may be a prerequisite for understanding specific neurobiological disease mechanisms. Our research combines a wide range of clinical and experimental techniques to study the dysregulation of motor circuits underlying human movement disorders. We aim to better understand the neuronal mechanisms of motor control towards new and personalized treatments.

Director, Institute for Diagnostic and Interventional Neuroradiology

At the Department of Neuroradiology we are interested in understanding vascular and degenerative diseases of the central and peripheral nervous system through clinical and experimental research. We employ clinical imaging and also invasive methods to investigate the cerebral blood circulation under acute and postacute ischemic conditions. In close collaboration with our experimental imaging facilities (Prof. P . Jakob leading the Experimental MR Group at the Experimental Physics Dept. V of Würzburg University and Prof. L. Schreiber coordinating the Imaging Core Facility of the Comprehensive Heart Failure Center), we use experimental MR imaging methods to understand the response of the cerebral microvascular unit to ischemic stimuli. With further support of MR physicists at the Dept. of Neuroradiology (Dr. rer. nat. G. Homola and Dipl. Phys. Th. Kampf) we develop high-resolution human and experimental imaging methods for the peripheral nervous system. We are particularly interested in analyzing the role of microstructural nerve and dorsal-root-ganglion injury and of the blood-nerve-barrier in pain syndromes and painful symptoms of neuropathies. Our group also provides methodological support for performing and analyzing functional MRI of brain network activity and structural connectivity to investigate neurodegenerative diseases of the CNS and disorders of cognition and emotion.

Group leader, visualDBSlab

The main objective of my multidisciplinary junior research group is to tackle clinical questions related to deep brain stimulation and the pathophysiology of movement disorders through computer visualisation and modelling. Various neuromodulation mechanisms are aimed to be clarified and brain network effects disentangled.

Group leader, Department of Neurology

To better understand the mechanisms behind human neurological diseases is the major theme of my research. Starting from observations in individual patients, my group has uncovered pathophysiological constituents of autoantibody-related diseases of the central and peripheral nervous system, like stiff-person disease and paranodopathies. We use direct analysis of patients biosamples and back-translation into animal and cellular models to better understand neurological diseases and pain. We plan to develop minimally invasive tests for the early detection of neurodegenerative disorders to create disease-modifying therapies.

Group leader, Department of Neurology

We are investigating the pathophysiology of peripheral neuropathies and of neuropathic and neuromuscular pain combining clinical and basic research in a translational setting. Using cutting-edge techniques for the clinical and experimental analysis of the peripheral nervous system, we aim at bridging the gap between patients' phenotype and the molecular basis of neuropathy and pain. Comprehensive assessment of human biomaterial and the application of advanced cellular systems form the basis of innovative in vitro disease models developed and investigated in our group.

Director, Neurology

In recent years many brain disorders have been reinterpreted as dysfunction of specific brain circuits or “circuitopathies”. We are especially interested in the dysregulation of motor circuits underlying human movement disorders, such as Parkinsonism, dystonia, myoclonus or tremor. Our research focuses on neuromodulation techniques, in particular deep brain stimulation (DBS), which we helped to establish as one of the most potent therapies for patients with movement disorders in the past two decades. Our laboratory uses a wide range of clinical and experimental techniques to study the basic mechanisms of neurostimulation in patients and rodent disease models. We aim at a better understanding of the physiological mechanisms of deep brain stimulation and its interaction with dysfunctional motor network activity, the refinement of siste application and electrical stimulation parameters for an improved safety and efficacy of DBS in established indications and the expansion of DBS to new symptoms and brain targets for an improved treatment of various brain diseases.

Group leader, AG Systemic Neurophysiology, Department of Neurology

One of the most fascinating aspects of the human brain is its ability to reorganize in response to environmental or internal stimuli, which is referred to as neural plasticity. Our main research interest is focused on physiological mechanisms of cortical plasticity and its functional role in neurological diseases, particulary in multiple sclerosis and movement disorders. An additional focus of our lab is on multisensory aspects of the feeling of “bodily self” and of its impairment by neurological disorders. To this end, we apply non-invasive stimulation techniques (TMS, paired-associative stimulation, tDCS), evoked potentials, EEG, functional MRI (in collaboration with Dept. of Neuroradiology), and various behavioral paradigms.

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Group Leader, Department of Anaesthesiology, Center for Interdisciplinary Pain Medicine

In order to protect the body from harmful damage, the nociceptive system signals “pain” to the central nervous system. Understanding inflammatory and neuropathic pain generation as well as analgesia in the peripheral nervous system drives translational research in my group. We are focusing on tissue barriers protecting pain pathways. Barrier instability facilitates painful signals. Therefore, we are interested in studying approaches to maintain or regain homeostasis in neuronal barriers. Secondly, we seek to identify mechanisms and interactions of neuroimmunological substrates including oxidation and lipid metabolites for peripheral pain generation as targets for innovative pain management. We employ patients’ biomaterials, advanced preclinical rodent models and state-of-the-art animal behavioral portfolios, as well as in vitro cellular systems for barriers and neuronal structures to decipher these pathways.

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© 2020 by Philip Tovote

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last update: 10/12/2020