Internship: Brain mechanisms of compulsivity

Student Project
Rodent behavioral testing and analysis; In vivo fast-scan cyclic voltammetry; Optogenetics and pharmacogenetics; Deep-brain stimulation; Lesion studies; In vivo electrophysiology; In vivo microdialysis; Immunohistochemistry. Please have a look at our group site for more detailed information.
6-12 months
Daily support
To be determined depending on the project
Senior Tutor


The group, headed by Ingo Willuhn, studies the neurobiological basis of compulsive behavior using animal models. We investigate different aspects of compulsive behavior (i.e., habit formation, response inflexibility, loss of voluntary control, and aggravation by stress and anxiety) and measure neuronal activity in the brain simultaneously. In addition, we investigate the neurobiological mechanisms of the effects of deep-brain stimulation (DBS) in psychiatric disorders. The group is embedded in the greater research team of Professor Damiaan Denys (chair of AMC Psychiatry) and therefore has close ties with clinicians and clinical researchers, providing optimal conditions for a translational and multidisciplinary approach. Specifically, we translate clinical findings into relevant animal models such as for addiction or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and vice versa we aim to apply the conclusions from our basic science findings in the clinical setting.

Our research tools include methods for intracerebral stimulation (e.g., DBS, optogenetics, chemogenetics) in freely moving rodents, in combination with tests for emotional and cognitive behavior (in set-ups such as elevated plus maze and operant chambers), neurochemical measurements (e.g., microdialysis, fast-scan cyclic voltammetry), and electrophysiological recordings (single-unit activity and local field potentials (LFPs)). Furthermore, we also use pharmacological and functional magnetic resonance imaging (phMRI and fMRI) in rodents to detect the effects of drugs, DBS, and optical stimulation throughout the brain.

The group is driven by the general question: “How do we control our behavior?”, and is specifically interested in “compulsivity” and the effects of “deep-brain stimulation” on compulsive behavior. The student will be involved in one of the following projects depending on preference and availability:

  • Coordination of dopamine release in the striatum during habit formation and compulsive behavior.
  • Conditioned cue control over reward seeking and brain activity (natural rewards and illicit drugs)
  • Perturbation of functional brain connectivity in a rat model of OCD.
  • The role of stress in behavioral and genetic mouse models of compulsive behavior.
  • DBS-evoked modulation of global neural activity and reward-driven behavior.
  • Effects of DBS and developmental drug exposure on functional connectivity in rat brain circuits.