Portret photo Alexander Heimel Portretfoto Christian Lohmann Portretfoto Maarten Kole Christiaan Levelt poseert voor een foto.

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.


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.


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.”


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.

Portret photo Alexander Heimel

Heimel Group

The goal of Alexander Heimel is to understand how vision is turned into action by instinct and learning. To find an answer to this question, he and his lab measure the responses of neurons in mice using a combination of techniques, such as electrophysiology and calcium imaging using two-photon microscopy and micro-endoscopy. They also selectively perturb visual processing by optogenetic, chemogenetic and pharmacological means to investigate the neural circuitry underlying vision. Brain areas that are actively being explored by Heimel and his team are the visual cortex and thalamus, the superior colliculus, the zona incerta and the periaqueductal gray.

More background is available in a interview in Dutch with Malou van Hintum.

A recent list of all publications in English can be found at Google Scholar.

Also check out: News from the lab

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Portretfoto Christian Lohmann

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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Portretfoto Maarten Kole

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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Christiaan Levelt poseert voor een foto.

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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