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KNAW institutes embark on three new collaboration projects

A number of KNAW research institutes, among which the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, are embarking on three new collaboration projects. The three projects will be funded with 1.5 million euros from the KNAW research fund intended for collaborations between KNAW institutes.

ECOLOGICAL EPIGENETICS AND THE BRAIN

Three KNAW institutes, the Netherlands Institute for Ecology (NIOO), the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and the Hubrecht Institute, will join forces to study the brain of mice, rats, and the parus major bird. Together with researchers from the other two institutes, the NIN groups of Chris de Zeeuw and Ingo Willuhn will use the animals´ DNA to investigate how brain and behavior have evolved in the course of time. They will do this by checking out changes in the epigenome, which is not the DNA-code sequence but the second structure of DNA, concerned with, among other things, the way in which the DNA is coiled within cells, and the presence or absence of methyl groups in the DNA.

The other projects will be focusing on historical documents (Huygens ING, IISG) and new antibiotics created from fungi (Hubrecht Institute, Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute).

RESEARCH FUND FOR KNAW INSTITUTES

The KNAW has expressed its intention to strengthen the ties between its research institutes in its Strategic Agenda 2016-2020: Science and Scholarship Connect.
The KNAW-Institutes Research Fund was set up for precisely this reason. Annually, 1.5 million euros is available for KNAW institutes that join forces for a research project. The first time the amount was granted was in 2016.

See the KNAW website for more information (in Dutch).

 

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De Zeeuw Group

The group of Chris De Zeeuw focuses on the role of the cerebellum in sensorimotor integration and cognition. We aim to understand how cerebellar processing contributes to motor learning of both relatively simple reflex tasks and complex preparatory tasks.

 

Chris de Zeeuw at Brainy Days in Jerusalem – ELSC

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Denys/Willuhn Group

Neuromodulation & Behavior

This pre-clinical research group headed by Ingo Willuhn is embedded in a larger clinical research team at the AMC department of Psychiatry. The group is driven by the question: “How do we control our behavior?”. Specifically, the Neuromodulation and Behavior group is interested in the neurobiology of compulsive behavior and in mechanisms through which actions become automatic with a focus on basal ganglia function and dopamine signaling. Furthermore, the group studies the effects of deep-brain stimulation (DBS) on brain and behavior.

What is compulsivity? Compulsivity is behavior that is out of control, behavior we perform despite not wanting to perform it or despite its negative outcome. Compulsive behavior is performed persistently, repetitively, and inflexibly. But how does compulsivity develop? What is its neurobiological basis? To answer these questions, we investigate different aspects of compulsivity (e.g., automation of behavior, cognitive (in-)flexibility) and measure/modulate neuronal activity in the brain simultaneously.

Compulsivity is a core feature in several neuropsychiatric disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and drug addiction. In otherwise therapy-resistant patients of such disorders, DBS has been effective. However, our understanding of the mechanisms of action of DBS is still limited. Therefore, we aim to investigate how DBS affects compulsivity and what the neurobiological basis of these effects is.

Our group has a strong collaborative relationship to the Department of Psychiatry at the Amsterdam Medical Center (AMC) lead by Damiaan Denys and therefore has close ties with clinicians and clinical researchers, providing optimal conditions for a translational and multidisciplinary approach. Specifically, we translate clinical findings from studies in humans into relevant animal models, and vice versa we aim to apply our conclusions in the clinical setting. At the very core of our research is the study of rodent behavior. On one hand, we test compulsive behavior itself by using behavioral, (e.g., signal attenuation, schedule-induced polydipsia), pharmacological (drug self-administration), and genetic (SAPAP3-KO mice) animal models. On the other hand, we study “normal’ behavioral faculties such as habit formation, response flexibility, emotion, and cognition (e.g., elevated plus maze, operant chambers) that may contribute to compulsivity when dysregulated. We combine behavioral testing with state-of-the-art research tools including diverse methods for brain stimulation (e.g., DBS, chemogenetics, optogenetics), neurochemical measurements (e.g., microdialysis, fast-scan cyclic voltammetry), calcium imaging (implantable miniaturized microscopes), and electrophysiological recordings (e.g., single-unit activity, local field potentials (LFPs)). Furthermore, we use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in rodents to detect the effects of drugs and DBS throughout the brain.

 

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