Since 1.04.2011 the Max Planck Emeritus group is affiliated also with the Ernst Strüngmann Institute which currently develops on the space occupied previously by the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research.
Research focuses on the analysis of neuronal processes in the mammalian cerebral cortex that underlie higher cognitive functions and their deterioration in disease.
Of particular interest to us is the question how information provided by sensory stimuli or prior experience is encoded. We believe that the evolution of neocortex introduced novel strategies of information processing that go beyond the capacity of neural systems utilizing essential amplitude (discharge rate) modulations and labeled lines as coding space. Currently we pursue the hypothesis that further relevant information is contained in the precise temporal relations between the discharges of distributed neurons and in case of oscillatory activity in the phase relations between oscillating cell populations. Examining temporal relations among the activity of distributed neurons requires simultaneous recordings from multiple neurons. The strategy common to all projects is, therefore, to obtain massive parallel recordings from multiple cortical sites, to study the resulting high dimensional response patterns with advanced methods of time series analysis and to establish relations with specific stimulation conditions and/or cognitive and executive functions. In most of the projects we use the visual system as a model. To study neural dynamics with cellular resolution we record from anaesthetized cats and awake macaque monkeys trained to perform cognitive tasks involving perceptual decisions, short term memory and prediction. The electrophysiological measurements in nonhuman primates are complemented by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) for the identification of functional networks at a more global scale.
In order to validate principles of organization discovered in the animal experiments and to generate baseline data for studies in patients, electroencephalographic (EEG), magnetoencephalographic (MEG) and MRI measurements are performed in human subjects performing similar cognitive tasks as the non-human primates. The same methods are then applied for the investigation of patients suffering from psychiatric diseases that we suspect to be associated with disturbed temporal coordination of distributed brain processes. Currently, we focus on schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder. These projects are carried out in close cooperation with the Brain Imaging Center (BIC) and its core store staff (Prof. M. Wibral, Prof. R. Deichmann). The data obtained in both the animal and the human studies consist of high dimensional, non-stationery time series that require for their analysis and interpretation advanced computational methods. Therefore, we closely cooperate with colleagues working at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS) who are experts in computational neuroscience, machine learning and modeling.