|Our research at the department of behavioral physiology and developmental neurobiology focuses on three topics (1) the interplay between cognitive and emotional-affective functions, (2) ontogeny of sense organs, and (3) nerve regeneration.
The first topic includes studies on visual guidance of feeding behavior in amphibians. Amphibians have the simplest brains among land vertebrates, which at the same time contain essentially all cognitive and emotional centers found in the mammalian brain. We investigate how prey object recognition, prey selection, emotional-affective formation of prey preferences and motor control of prey capture proceed at the level of single cells and their components, such as synapses, as well as of small and intermediate neuronal network. Our studies include behavioral experiments (stimulus preference tests, positive and negative conditioning), functional neuroanatomy and immunocytochemistry, extra- and intracellular electrophysiology in vivo and in vitro. Our ultimate goal is a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the pathways from sensory perception via cognitive-emotional evaluation and learning to motor action. Emotional-affective behavior is likewise studied in two inbred strains of rats. We attempt to elucidate the different components of agonistic-aggressive behavior with respect to sex, experience, intermale and interfemale dominance, and related changes in levels of neurotransmitters and (neuro)hormones.
The second topic of our work concentrates on the ontogeny of sense organs in amphibians. Here, we study different aspects of early placodal development in embryos. We focus on the early embryonic origin of placodes and the expression patterns of several genes such as Eya1 and Six1.
The third topic includes regeneration of nerves in rats, which is studied by allotransplantation of nerve segments or artificial nerve conduits. The success of long-term regeneration is assessed by walking track analysis and histological methods. These investigations are conducted in collaboration with clinicians. Our goal is a comparison of nerve reconstruction procedures based on animal experiments with those commonly applied in the clinic.