Instinctive Behaviour Circuits Group

Instinctive Behaviour Circuits Group

Vanessa Stempel

Instinctive behaviours, such as hunting, escape and mating, are an animal’s survival kit of actions that they acquire with little to no experience. In vertebrates, they are generated by remarkably conserved brain circuits, and it has become increasingly clear in recent years that instinctive behaviours are not just stereotyped fixed-action patterns but that they can be flexible in regard to both action selection and execution. They are strongly modulated by internal and motivational states, such as stress, hunger or oestrus cycle, and may undergo short- and long-lasting adaptations to accommodate environmental changes.

Understanding the synaptic and cellular implementation of this behavioural flexibility in defined neural circuits will be a significant step towards our understanding of adaptive information processing in the brain and the generation of behaviour. We will focus on evolutionarily conserved circuits in the rodent midbrain, that are critically involved in the initiation and execution of instinctive behaviours. Our goal is to identify canonical neuronal computations and plasticity mechanisms that impart flexibility to instinctive behaviours.

To address these questions, we use a multidisciplinary approach. We perform in vivo neural activity recordings and manipulation experiments in ethologically-relevant behavioural tasks in mice, and combine these with molecular, cellular and circuit-level analyses in vitro.

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