Research Areas

Fast Network Oscillations

Rhythmic activity is a key functional feature of the brain, as evident from the well-known EEG-rhythms. Meanwhile, many neuroscientists agree that such network oscillations are «meaningful» and provide an important background for temporal coding of information. In our group we focus on one type of network oscillations in the rodent hippocampus, namely «ripples» at ~200 Hz as originally described by John O´Keefe, G. Buszáki and others. We want to elucidate the precise mechanisms by which neurons are entrained to fire at high precision within these short (5 ms) cycles. Moreover, we would like to find out why certain neurons participate in this network while others do not.

Function of GABAergic Synapses

The complex organisation of central synapses offers multiple mechanisms for regulation and modulation of synaptic strength. We focus on inhibitory synapses in the mammalian CNS which use GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) as transmitter. The availability of GABA is regulated by its synthesis, degradation and after release-uptake. In situations of over-excitability, the GABA-synthetizing enzyme GAD is up-regulated while a decrease of neuronal activity leads to a down-regulation of GAD. Thus, cellular GABA content seems to be an activity-dependent, variable parameter. We propose that the presynaptic GABA metabolism is a true and autonomous mechanism of synaptic plasticity. We are presently testing this hypothesis using various electrophysiological, histological and biochemical techniques.

Synaptic Physiology and Pharmacology of Epilepsy

Epilepsy is characterized by a chronic state of recurrent pathological hypersynchronous electrical activity in the brain or parts of the brain. A very simple pathophysiologcal concept could ascribe epilepsy to a disturbed balance between excitation and inhibition in the affected circuits. Certainly, this idea is a gross over-simplification. Nevertheless, some of the most efficient anticonvulsant drugs act by strengthening synaptic inhibition. We are interested in the mechanisms of action of such drugs at the synaptic, cellular and network level. Moreover, we search for changes in synaptic innervation of hippocampal neurons in models of temporal lobe epilepsy. Such efforts should help to clarify why epileptic seizures alter the hippocampal circuitry in a way which promotes further epileptogenesis, contributing to the chronic (and often progressive) nature of this frequent disease.

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