synaptic neuroscience

Group leader, Anatomy & Cell Biology

Director, Neurophysiology

Group leader, Neurophysiology

My lab studies molecular mechanisms of synaptic plasticity and sensory physiology by combining neurogenetics, electrophysiology, super-resolution microscopy and optogenetics. We focus on the genetically tractable organism Drosophila melanogaster to interrogate the physiological role of adhesion-GPCRs and to study structure-function relationships of pre- and postsynaptic signalling compartments. We pursue a tiered approach, beginning with the peripheral larval nervous system to elucidate basic molecular mechanisms. The work program then progresses to the adult fly brain to study neuronal physiology in a behavioral context, such as circadian plasticity and olfactory memory formation.

Head, Biotechnology & Biophysics

I am interested in the molecular architecture and organization principles of synapses. Therefore, we are developing and using new super-resolution microscopy techniques such as dSTORM, PALM, lattice-light-sheet and SIM to unravel how nature encodes function at the molecular level. In cooperation with many colleagues we aim to decipher the distribution of synaptic proteins and quantify the number present in different areas in healthy and diseased brain.

Group leader, Electron Microscopy

I am interested in understanding the dynamic behavior and architecture of cells and to combine this information with the molecular factors at play. I used zebrafish as model to unravel molecular components of an early patterning process in the nervous system that separates the eye field from the telencephalic progenitor pool. Vertebrate brains crucially rely on neural progenitor pools as source of undifferentiated and proliferating cells during development and partly also throughout life-time. I then focused on the molecular processes regulating the neural progenitor pool at the midbrain-hindbrain boundary (MHB) that discovered a novel microRNA which mediated the regulation of the MHB progenitor pool. I then went on to use the small nematode C. elegans as model organism to study structure and function of chemical synapses, fine structured cellular junctions that allow communication between neurons themselves and neurons and muscle cells. I apply advanced electron microscopy techniques such as high pressure freezing and established electron tomography as tools to study synaptic architecture at the nanoscale in 3D. A special interest of my research is to combine microscopy techniques in a correlated light and electron microscopy (CLEM) approach. With this approach one can profit from the advantages of both techniques, allowing access to ultrastructural information with the knowledge of the localization of molecular factors. 

Group leader, Molecular Pathomechanisms of Ion Channel and Motor Diseases

Neuronal signaling is facilitated by specialized membrane proteins called ion channels. Ion channels are permeable for distinct ions that passively flow down their electrochemical gradient across neuronal membranes. Our group is interested in neuronal inhibition in the central nervous system. Inhibitory neurotransmission involves inhibitory ion channels, e.g glycine and GABAA receptors. These receptors are ligand-gated and belong to the superfamily of Cys-loop receptors. Disturbances in glycinergic signal transmission pathways are associated with neuromotor disorders (Startle disease, hyperekplexia), pain, autism, and panic disorders. Hence, glycine receptors are target molecules of therapeutic drugs. We aim at cellular and molecular mechanisms of receptor trafficking, synaptic localization, receptor functionality characterized by patch-clamp electrophysiology. To bridge molecular and in vivo approaches, we analyze mouse models at the behavioral, cellular and functional levels. 

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