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Jointly understanding the Brain: 2. Transatlantic Collaborations round in Computational Neuroscience

Collaborations between Germany and the United States in the field of Computational Neuroscience are being expanded. Six new projects will be funded in the coming three years by a total of 2.6 million Euros.

The projects are characterized by close links between experimental and theoretical approaches in exploring the brain. This is the second funding round of a joint German-American funding initiative by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The funded projects investigate the following topics:

Abnormal long-lasting neuronal discharges in the cerebral cortex are suspected to be responsible for migraine attacks. Dr. Markus Dahlem from the Technische Universität Berlin wants to find out together with colleagues at Pennsylvania State University, State College, whether these discharges can be controlled by the influence of electric fields in a closed loop. This will be investigated in computer as well as in animal models.

Patterns of brain activity that are measured with imaging techniques differ between individuals, even for identical stimulations. In collaboration with colleagues from Dartmouth College, Hanover, and Princeton University, Princeton, Dr. Michael Hanke of the Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg wants to develop new methods to improve comparability. These methods would allow analysis of individual patterns and transformation between these patterns. Thus, even intrinsic processes such as social cognition should become comparable.

How does the brain perfectly accomplish the task of reconstructing the three-dimensional world from a two-dimensional image on our retina? Prof. Roland Fleming, Justus-Liebig-University, Giessen, and his colleagues at Yale University, New Haven, examine whether cells that recognize the intensity patterns of images enable us to experience a three-dimensional perception of the world. This will be investigated using psychophysical experiments and computer models.

Sensory systems must highly efficiently filter complex characteristics and patterns from a huge amount of information. How this takes place in the olfactory bulb, Dr. Andreas Schaefer of the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Heidelberg, wants to examine jointly with researchers from Cornell University, Ithaca. Among other things, they will investigate the functional role of inhibitory cells during contrast enhancement of information, using optogenetic methods.

How are the function and the dendritic structure of a nerve cell coupled? This is what Prof. Stefan Remy from the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Bonn, wants to find out in collaboration with scientists from Northwestern University, Evanston, Stanford University, Stanford, and the Janelia Farm Research Campus HHMI, Ashburn. Using a combination of new microscopic techniques, they will study cells from the hippocampus that play an important role in memory and other cognitive processes.

How is the brain able to successfully perform many different tasks with the same neurons? Prof. Cornelius Schwarz of the Werner Reichardt Centre for Integrative Neuroscience, Tübingen, will examine this question in collaboration with scientists at Georgia Tech and Emory University, Atlanta, using the example of the rat’s whisker system. Neuronal coding will be described with the help of statistical models and the researchers will try to show how sensory tasks can be adapted to current perceptional requirements.

In 2010, five projects were chosen for the first funding round, in which a total of 3.4 million Euros was invested. In Germany, the projects are integrated into the National Bernstein Network for Computational Neuroscience (NNCN).The NNCN was established by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research with the aim of structurally interconnecting and developing German capacities in the new scientific discipline of Computational Neuroscience. The network is named after the German physiologist Julius Bernstein (1835–1917).

Johannes Faber | idw
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