At the heart of our research is the question of how the mammalian nervous system creates basic, evolutionary conserved states, such as aversive emotions and their corresponding behavioral and physiologic changes. We focus on neuronal circuits within the midbrain, at the intersection of higher-order information from the forebrain, descending control outputs and ascending interoceptive pathways. In particular, we are interested in defensive brain states such as fear and anxiety, which are evoked by threatening stimuli and are characterized by a range of hormonal, behavioral and autonomic adaptations.
We use state-of-the-art methodology, such as in vivo electrophysiological recordings and calcium-imaging of defined neuronal subpopulations, optogenetics, cardiac measures and neuroanatomical tracings to gain a more detailed, and mechanistic level of analysis of the neuronal substrates underlying defensive brain states and their corresponding bodily functions. These technologies are applied in and combined with classic and semi-naturalistic behavioral fear and anxiety tests in rodents.
How do neuronal circuits integrate bottom-up information about bodily states with top-down locomotor and visceromotor control to establish different fear and anxiety states? Adressing this question will help to elucidate pathophysiological changes within basic processes that contribute to neuropsychiatric symptoms. We aim at a better understanding of the neuronal circuits that underlie brain-body interactions in fear and anxiety, and to develop models for targeted "circuit therapy" with enhanced specificity to treat systems neuropsychiatric disorders.