systems neuroscience


Head, Chronobiology

My main research interests are to decipher the circadian clock at the molecular and neuronal network level, to understand how it is synchronized to the environmental cycles on earth (mainly to the Zeitgebers light and temperature) and how it controls behavior. Most of our studies are performed on the model organism Drosophila melanogaster. In further studies we examine the neuronal network of the circadian clock of other insects, mainly social insects that show a photoperiodic diapause.

Group leader, Magnetic Resonance Imaging

In the Department of Experimental Physics 5, Experimental MRI we use magnetic resonance imaging and magnetic resonance spectroscopy ranging from morphological, functional, molecular and cellular MRI for translation into biomedical and clinical applications. This is completed by the development and use of specialized spatial encoding and contrast strategies, advanced visualization techniques and hardware development. Current methodological focus include quantitative MRI, relaxography and chemical exchange contrast in the human brain. The physics team is involved in the field of MRI since 1998 and has significant experience in the training and teaching of students.

Group leader, Computational Image and Network Analysis

We develop and apply computational methods for automated image and network analysis, aiming towards a quantitative understanding of multicellular interactions in neuronal and other tissues. Our approach includes for example segmentation of synaptic structures from electron microscopic images using deep learning, clustering of neuronal proteins from 3D superresolution microscopy, and the analysis of network structure and dynamics both in vitro in 3D tissue culture as well as in vivo. Based on the quantitative information from such large-scale image data, we develop theoretical models and generate new hypotheses on the structure and function of complex biological networks on all scales.

Group leader, Department of Physiological Chemistry

The neurotransmitter serotonin is known for its mood modulating function, and accordingly, dysfunctions of the serotonergic system are implicated in several common mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety-disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although half a century has passed since the serotonergic neurons of the brain were first described, many fundamental properties of these cells still remain enigmatic. We are addressing basic questions regarding the development, function and organization of central serotonergic neurons. For our research we combine genetic tools, imaging and behavior, using the genetically tractable zebrafish as a model organism.

Head, Molecular Genetics

What can we learn from Drosophila, which is relevant to understand brain development, function and disease processes in humans? Using a combination of genetic, molecular, immunohistochemical and behavioral approaches, our research focuses on two aspects. First, we are characterizing a number of mutations which interfere with proliferation of neural progenitor cells and thereby disturb establishment of functional neural circuits. In a second project we are focusing on the Coffin-Lowry-syndrome associated protein kinase RSK2. The severe intellectual disabilities might be caused at the neurophysiological level and our studies using the fly motoneuron system as a first model suggest an involvement of this kinase in synaptic plasticity, axonal transport and regulation of intracellular signaling. Our current aim is to study the role of RSK2 in central brain neurons in the context of olfactory learning and circadian rhythmicity and to identify molecular targets. 

Chair, Behavioral Physiology & Sociobiology (Zoology II)

Our research centers on mechanisms of behaviors underlying social organization – from the level of molecular and cellular processes in the brain, to the control of individual behavior, and the evolution of neurocircuits underlying social interactions. We use social insects - ants and bees - as powerful model systems for this integrative approach. The major focus of our research is on principles of olfactory communication, spatial navigation, and behavioral plasticity. By combining quantitative behavior studies with neurocircuit analyses, neurophysiology (multi-unit recordings, imaging) and molecular studies, we investigate olfactory coding, spatial orientation and neuroplasticity underlying polyethism, learning, and long-term memory.

Head, Systems Neurobiology

At the heart of our research is the question of how the mammalian brain creates basic, evolutionary conserved emotions and the corresponding behaviors driven by motor programs. In particular, we are interested in fear and anxiety, defensive brain states that are evoked by threatening stimuli and are characterized by a range of hormonal, behavioral and autonomic adaptations. We use state-of-the-art methodology, such as in vivo electrophysiological recordings and calcium-imaging of defined neuronal subpopulations, optogenetics, cardiac measures and neuroanatomical tracings to gain a more detailed, and mechanistic level of analysis of the neuronal substrates underlying defensive brain states and their corresponding bodily functions. These technologies are applied in and combined with classic and semi-naturalistic behavioral fear and anxiety tests in rodents.

Head, Neurogenetics

Neuropeptides fine-tune the brain to perform complex tasks. Released as hormones, peptides also serve as chemical messengers between brain and peripheral tissues. Disturbances in peptide signalling underlie many psychiatric phenotypes, ranging from anxiety and depression to eating-disorders. We take advantage of the genetic toolbox and small number of neurons of the fruitfly Drosophila to study how peptidergic systems control and time feeding and motor behavior (locomotion, eclosion). We also characterise the cellular and chemical structure of peptidergic systems. Overall, we aim for an evolutionary understanding of peptidergic signalling and its circadian regulation.

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Head, Experimental Clinical Psychology

We study the foundations of human social behavior. Our interests range from basic processes such as face perception and emotion recognition to higher-order social cognitive and evaluative functions such as deception or empathy. To tackle these questions, we employ a multimodal approach involving behavioral studies, eye-tracking, EEG and functional neuroimaging. While most experiments in our lab rely on healthy participants, we also carry out clinical studies in patients with social dysfunctions (e.g., social anxiety, psychopathy or borderline personality disorders).

Group leader, Cognitive Psychology

We study brain and body rhythms, particularly the relationship between movement and perception. Exciting findings from animal electrophysiological research suggest that an increased rate of body movements results in enhanced neuronal responses within the visual system, despite the absence of visual changes. In humans, little is known about the influence of movements on sensory brain areas mainly due to technical challenges; however, human behavioral studies suggest that perception is linked to movement. My group uses human non-invasive recordings from electro- and magnetoencephalography (EEG, MEG) as well as invasive human (ECoG) and animal multi-electrode recordings to investigate the relationship between movements and perception. Considering the role of oscillatory brain activity in perception, one focus of our research lies on directly relating body movements to perception measured behaviorally and electrophysiologically as neuronal oscillations.

Head, Differential Psychology, Personality Psychology, and Psychological Assessment

My primary scientific interest concerns the affective and cognitive neuroscience of personality and decision making. I have a background in biological psychology and neuroscience using all kinds of methods including electroencephalogram, functional magnetic resonance imaging, peripheral physiology (electrodermal activity and heart rate), hormonal measurements (cortisol), genetics, and eye-tracking. My research addresses phenomena in the areas of emotion, motivation, attention, and decision-making, with a focus on individual differences, in particular temperament and personality as well as clinical phenomena like pathological gambling, phobia, and eating disorders. A specific recent main focus is the role of psychological mechanisms like personality and emotion in economic decision-making and its neural correlates.

Head, Intervention Psychology

My research group focuses on brain-computer interfacing (BCI) to influence cortical actitivity for replacing or improving lost function of the central nervous system. We are establishing BCI driven communication and interaction in people diagnosed with locked-in syndrome due to stroke or neurodegenerative disease, mainly amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). We use BCI based neurofeedback to improve cognitive function after stroke and to foster speech rehabilitation in aphasia. We are interested in defining predictors of successful BCI use and apply the user-centred design to support transfer of BCI based assisstive technology, rehabilitation and therapy out of the lab to the patients‘ home. We successfully transferred the BCI driven Brain Painting for independent home use by locked-in patients ( and significantly improved their quality of life. We defined a cortical marker of coping with severe chronic and terminal disease and are currently conducting replication studies in several other chronic diseases such as Parkinson‘s, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and high spinal cord injury.

Head, Institute of Psychology

Anxiety disorders. Studies regarding cognitive distortions (distorted assessments of probability and memory) and psychophysiological correlate (EEG) with anxiety disorders. I am especially interested in whether cognitive distortions contribute to the development and/or continuation of the disorder.
Somatoform Disorders - Pain. My research interests concentrate on the interaction between emotions, brain hemisphere asymmetry and pain perception. Studies with healthy individuals examined the association between brain hemisphere asymmetry and pain threshold, or rather manageability and pain threshold. The way in which changes in feelings influence pain percpetion was examined in studies regarding hypochondria and pain disorders.
Addiction. The cognitive, motivational and physiological effects of cues are studied in connection with drug consumption (nicotine). Our recent studies have shown that drug cues have a neutral or rather a negative valence subjectively, but their physiological measurements (change in acoustic fright reaction) point rather to a positive valence. This contradiction between subjective and physiological reaction is possibly responsible for the continuation of the desire for drugs.

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© 2019 by Philip Tovote

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last update: 20/11/2019