Monoamines are neuromodulators that serve central functions in adaptive brain physiology, including mediation of learning plasticity, homeostasis of emotional state, regulation of sleep and arousal, or planning of future actions. Disturbances in monoaminergic brain systems quickly lead to dysfunctional states in human or animal subjects, ranging from impaired behavioral and cognitive flexibility to severe neurological disorders like substance abuse, major depression, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. Hence, the ailments associated with monoaminergic dysfunctions are debilitating to patients and incur enormous societal costs. Consequently, progress in our understanding of how monoamines impact neuronal brain circuits will not only foster fundamental neuroscience by revealing the mechanistic basis of several fundamental brain functions, but will also provide a critical prerequisite for developing medical treatment of the physiological causes underlying the above-mentioned syndromes.
Our network projects will combine circuit physiology and behavioral analysis with optogenetic manipulation techniques and explore the clinical exploitability of this combined approach. Optogenetic techniques allow to stimulate or silence genetically defined neurons by shining light on them.