Emotions tag our experiences and act as signposts to steer our behavior. Avoiding danger and pursuing rewards is essential for successful navigation through a complex environment, and thus for survival. The search for the neural correlate of emotions has fascinated not only scientists – after all, emotions are a central part of our mental self.
A team of researchers, led by Wulf Haubensak at the IMP, has set out to understand how emotions are generated in the brain. Just like seeing or hearing, our feelings are based on the activity of nerve cells or neurons. Emotions are characterized by the activity of multiple areas of the brain: the neocortex, brain stem and an almond-shaped region in the limbic system called amygdala. Together, these components form a complex network of neuronal circuits whose detailed structure and function are not yet understood.
Cartography of the Brain
The generous ERC funds will support an IMP-project to map the emotional circuitry within this network and to study how activity in these circuits gives rise to emotions. In their experimental setups, the researchers will use mice as experimental model system. Mice are able to show basic emotional behaviors and have a brain-anatomy sufficiently similar to ours, which allows us to draw conclusions that might be relevant for humans as well.
To address the origin of emotions, the neuroscientists use a combination of advanced methods that have been developed in recent years. To visualize neuronal circuit elements, they take advantage of the characteristics of certain viruses, such as the rabies pathogen. These viruses infect specific nerve cells and migrate along them to the brain. A fluorescent protein, engineered into the virus in advance, leaves a visible trace of light. This “viral circuit mapping” is able to highlight networks of interacting neurons with cartographic precision.
For a functional analysis of the tagged circuits, the scientists then employ sophisticated optogenetic technology. These methods make it possible to selectively switch groups of neurons on or off, using visible light like a remote control.
Circuit Therapies for the Future
The IMP-project will also address the question of how genes and pharmaceutical substances affect the activity of neuronal circuits and influence emotions. The researchers hope to gain valuable insights into emotional dysfunctions such as post-traumatic stress or anxiety disorders. Ultimately, this could lead to the development of specific “circuit therapies” to treat psychiatric disorders more selectively and with less side effects.
Wulf Haubensak is delighted by the ERC’s decision to support his project: “The generous funding will allow us to broaden our studies and to develop new experimental approaches. It also reflects the appreciation of the scientific community for our ideas and will certainly help to attract young, enthusiastic scientists to our project.”
The ERC Starting Grants aim to support up-and-coming research leaders who are about to establish a proper research team and to start carrying out independent research in Europe. The scheme targets promising young scientists who have the proven potential of conducting excellent research. In the current call, nine researchers from institutions based in Austria were selected to receive a Starting Grant, out of 91 applications.
About Wulf Haubensak
Wulf Haubensak was born in Tübingen (Germany) in 1972. He studied Biochemistry at the University of Bochum and in 2003 received his PhD in Neurosciences from the University of Heidelberg. He went on to join David Anderson’s lab at the California Institute of Technology as a Postdoc. Since 2011, Wulf Haubensak is a Group Leader at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna.
About the IMP
The Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna is a basic biomedical research institute largely sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim. With over 200 scientists from 30 nations, the IMP is committed to scientific discovery of fundamental molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying complex biological phenomena. Research areas include cell and molecular biology, neurobiology, disease mechanisms and computational biology. The IMP is a founding member of the Campus Vienna Biocenter.
Dr. Heidemarie Hurtl
Tel.: (+43 1) 79730 3625
Further Reports about: anxiety disorder > cellular mechanism > emotions > ERC Advanced Grants > ERC Starting Grant > IMP > IMP-project > Molecular Target > nerve cell > neuronal circuits > Pathology > psychiatric disorder > Starting > synthetic biology
More articles from Awards Funding:
Networks in the climate system: novel approach by young scientist awarded
10.12.2013 | Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung
EU supports projects on atmosphere research with 36 million euros
06.12.2013 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung
Researchers from Brown University and the University of Hawaii have found some mineralogical surprises in the Moon's largest impact crater.
Data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper that flew aboard India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter shows a diverse mineralogy in the subsurface of the giant South Pole Aitken basin.
The differing mineral signatures could be reflective of the minerals dredged up at the time of the giant impact 4 billion years ago, ...
In power electronics systems bonded connections create the central electrical connections between adjoining surfaces.
The quality of these bonded connections is one of the main factors that determines the reliability and availability of drive systems in electric vehicles, and hence constitutes a major design challenge for German auto manufacturers aiming to electrify their vehicles.
Now the partners participating in the RoBE (Robust Bonds in ...
International team of scientists develops new feedback method for optimizing the laser pulse shapes used in the control of chemical reactions
In many ways, traditional chemical synthesis is similar to cooking. To alter the final product, you can change the ingredients or their ratio, change the method of mixing ingredients, or change the temperature or pressure of the environment of the ingredients.
Like an accomplished chef, chemists have become very skilled ...
A genetic defect protects mice from infection with influenza viruses
A new study published in the scientific journal PLOS Pathogens points out that mice lacking a protein called Tmprss2 are no longer affected by certain flu viruses.
The discovery was made by researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig in collaboration with colleagues from Göttingen and ...
The Light: Global study gets underway with online user survey
Light has a fundamental impact on our sense of well-being and performance. In cooperation with Zumtobel, a supplier of lighting solutions, Fraunhofer IAO has launched a global user survey of lighting quality in offices. The objective is to identify the best lighting conditions for a variety of spaces and lighting ...
10.12.2013 | Physics and Astronomy
10.12.2013 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
10.12.2013 | Power and Electrical Engineering
10.12.2013 | Event News
05.12.2013 | Event News
04.12.2013 | Event News