The brain circuit consisting of the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex and connected subcortical sites mediates and integrates important cognitive and behavioural functions, including memory, attention, cognitive control, emotional, motivational and sensorimotor processes. This circuit may play a key role in enabling the translation of every-day memories (for example, of where you parked your car), which depend on the hippocampus, into adaptive behaviour (for example, getting back to the car), for which prefrontal-subcortical circuits are vital. Moreover, dysfunction within this hippocampo-prefrontal-subcortical circuit, especially within the hub regions – hippocampus and prefrontal cortex – may disrupt the wide range of cognitive functions integrated within this circuit. Consistent with this, dysfunction within this circuit has been implicated in key cognitive and behavioural impairments characterizing neuropsychiatric disorders.
In this project, we will further examine the role of the hippocampo-prefrontal-subcortical circuit in adaptive and dysfunctional behaviour and cognition. The specific research questions can be determined depending on your interest. Two main topics of our research include:
• hippocampal learning-behaviour translation: which prefrontal and subcortical regions contribute to behaviour based on hippocampus-dependent place learning, and by which mechanisms?
• importance of balanced neural activity: Imbalanced neural activity within the hippocampal-prefrontal-subcortical circuit, caused by changes in inhibitory GABA transmission, have come to the fore in important brain disorders, including age-related cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia. How do such imbalances affect distinct cognitive and behavioural functions? Can you explain symptoms characterizing these disorders?
To address these questions, we will combine a wide range of neuroscience methods in rat models. We will combine neuropharmacological modulation of specific brain regions by intracerebral drug microinfusions, with dedicated tests of specific cognitive and behavioural functions. In vivo electrophysiological methods will be used to characterise changes in neural activity patterns and interactions between relevant brain sites.
Additionally, depending on interest and specific project objectives, you will have the opportunity: to work with computational neuroscientists to synthesise experimental findings into neuro-computational models to formalise neurobiological mechanisms; to apply ‘translational’ brain imaging methods to characterise neuronal network changes in a way that enables direct comparison to human brain imaging studies; to apply modern neural tract tracing methods (involving ‘clarity’ and light-sheet microscopy) and opto- or pharmacogenetic methods.