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The winners of the Brain Awards 2017

On December 1, the third Postdoc Brain Award ceremony took place. This year, two Brain Awards were awarded to scientists of the institute. One for scientific excellence and one for collaboration between different research groups.

BRAIN AWARD FOR SCIENTIFIC EXCELLENCE

The Postdoc Brain Award for scientific excellence was awarded to Arne Battefeld from the Kole group. He received the award for his paperMyelinating satellite oligodendrocytes are integrated in a glial syncytium constraining neuronal high-frequency activity’ which was published in Nature Communications. For the first time, they showed the communication between neurons and satellite oligodendrocytes.

One of the judges was “impressed by the thoroughness and technical aptitude of the study by Battefeld and colleagues, and by the fact that it included electrophysiology, fine-scaled immunohistochemistry, and computational modelling.” The judges indicate that Arne’s entry had the highest level of scientific excellence, and is likely to have the most scientific impact.

BRAIN AWARD FOR COLLABORATIVE EXCELLENCE

Postdocs Laura Smit-Rigter and Rajeev Rajendran won this years’ Postdoc Brain Award for Collaborative Excellence. They crossed barriers of a single lab and made scientific advances by synergizing the insights from multiple groups, including the Levelt, Lohmann and Heimel groups. Smit-Rigter and Rajendran offer an interesting view on mitochondrial dynamics in visual cortex.

Their paper, Mitochondrial Dynamics in Visual Cortex Are Limited In Vivo and Not Affected by Axonal Structural Plasticity, was published in Current Biology. One of the judges said that the paper “clearly shows how the collaboration between the labs brought about a study that could not have been achieved otherwise.”

BRAIN AWARDS

The idea behind our NIN Brain Awards for Postdocs, is to put the limelight on our Postdocs, and to reward their hard work. The winners all received a sculpture and a cash award.

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Heimel Group

The microstructure of the cerebal cortex is remarkably similar and conserved across mammalian species. Width, lamination, neuronal cell types, connectivity, all show some species differences, but the overarching picture is one of similarity. That the same structure excels in interpreting speech, touch, vision and many other types of sensory information, suggests a circuit with amazingly adaptive information processing prowess. This has been known and appreciated for more than a century, but in the last few years the introduction of optical tools to observe and manipulate the thinking brain is promising to bring much better understanding of this marvelous structure. We are using electrophysiology, optogenetics, structural imaging, intrinsic signal imaging and calcium imaging to study the circuitry and function of mouse visual cortex and its interplay with other brain areas such as the thalamus and superior colliculus.

See lab web page for more information

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Lohmann Group

Synapse and Network Development

The development of specific synaptic connections between nerve cells is a fundamental step during the maturation of the brain, but its underlying mechanisms are largely unknown. To investigate how neurons establish specific connections, we apply high resolution imaging and electrophysiology in brain slices and in vivo.

Our goal is to identify patterns of neuronal activity, forms of calcium signaling and molecular factors that regulate synapse development. We focus on the local regulation of synapse maturation and its relationship with activity patterns in the entire cell and the emerging network.

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Kole Group

Axonal Signaling

Axons provide the wiring to connect neurons, and generate and conduct electrical impulses, which are the fundamental operations for fast electrical signaling and information storage in the nervous system. In order to enhance the speed of electrical transmission, axons are tightly wrapped by multiple layers of fatty layers, called myelin, derived from glia cell types. Although myelinated axons play pivotal roles in brain function, only little is understood about the precise electrical properties, their development or electrical architecture. Using advanced electrophysiological methods, high-resolution imaging and computational methods, our group studies signal conduction in the neocortical primary axon.

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Levelt Group

Plasticity of the neocortex is crucial for us to learn and adapt to our environment. Once tasks or functions are learned, the brain can carry them out very efficiently, in a routine-like fashion. However, learning and carrying out routine functions do not go hand in hand. During development the brain is highly malleable, but processes information rather slowly and erratically. Vice versa, when we perform routine tasks, little learning occurs and we ignore many inputs. This situation can suddenly change when a routine procedure results in an unexpected outcome. We rapidly become aware of additional circumstances and learn what caused the unexpected result.

Recent evidence, also from our laboratory, suggests that these increases in plasticity levels during critical periods of development or in response to reinforcement signals are achieved by a temporary reduction in cortical inhibition. Possibly, high levels of inhibition increase performance of neuronal networks by suppressing inputs that are irrelevant for the execution of routine tasks. Reduced inhibition may support learning by allowing such inputs to be taken into consideration to solve a novel challenge.

Using the mouse visual cortex as a model, the Levelt lab studies how inhibition regulates cortical plasticity levels at the right time. To achieve this goal the lab employs a combination of state-of-the art two-photon microscopy, electrophysiology, optogenetics and gene manipulation.

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