The section Neurobiology is divided into three scientific disciplines: Vision, Behavior and Development.
The Research Unit (Forschergruppe) 1075 was inaugurated by the German Research Council (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft). Research Groups constitute a program providing the staff and material resources required for carrying out intensive cooperative projects.
The research efforts of the Research Group 1075 focus on the most common causes of vision loss and blindness in the Western world such as age-related macular degeneration, primary open-angle glaucoma, and inherited retinal degeneration. In all these diseases, vision loss is caused by neuronal cell death in the retina. The investigators of the Research Unit 1075 share the opinion that neuronal death is caused or accelerated by failure in typical homeostatic systems of the retina. The systems include, but are not restricted to, vascular supply, intraocular pressure, the immune system or the retinal-pigmented epithelium.
The common goal of investigators taking part in the Research Unit 1075 is to identify the molecular reasons that cause or contribute to the failure of the homeostatic systems, to develop therapeutic strategies to overcome this failure and to prevent neuronal death in order to preserve vision. Since 2012, Research Unit 1075 is the only coordinated program in Germany dedicated to the study of retinal diseases that is funded by the German Research Council.
Behavior - Neuronal mechanisms of emotional and social behaviors
Several PhD projects are associated with the neuroendocrine, neuronal and molecular mechanisms underlying the regulation of mammalian emotionality and social behaviors under healthy and pathological, e.g. chronic stress, conditions. Psychopathologies are often accompanied both by emotional dysregulation (increased anxiety and depression-related behaviors) as well as by social dysfunctions such as social phobia, impaired social recognition, and elevated levels of aggression. Also, the peripartum period is characterized not only by the emergence of maternal behavior, but also by alterations in emotionality and stress responsiveness. The neuropeptides oxytocin, vasopressin, CRH and neuropeptide S were found to contribute significantly to these complex emotional and social behaviors. However, underlying molecular and genetic effects remain relatively unknown.
Neurodegeneration and Development
One focus of our lab is the analysis of molecular and cellular functions of neurodegenerative disease genes using well-established Drosophila models. Familiar forms of human neurodegenerative diseases allowed to identify various genes, which, when mutated, lead to cell death in the CNS. However, very little is known about the molecular and cellular function of these genes and animal models mimicking the disease are difficult to establish. Using Drosophila, we were able to establish model systems for Parkinson disease, Friedreich’s ataxia and ALS, which allows us to study the molecular and cellular functions leading to neurodegenerative effects in the nervous system.
In a second project, we are studying the function of some members of the Ski/Sno family of proto-oncogenes during development, their relation to TGFb/BMP signaling and the implications for development of the nervous system and tumorigenesis.