Abteilung für Zoologie/Entwicklungsneurobiologie
Willkommen auf den Seiten der Abteilung für Zoologie und Entwicklungsneurobiologie
Human and animal studies indicate that early life adversities (ELA) are major risk factors in the etiology of major depressive disorder and highlight the role of ELA in the shaping of a disordered brain. Understanding the mechanisms mediating the transgenerational programming of ELA-induced behavioral and brain pathologies is essential to explain the generational persistence of human behaviors in families and populations exposed to ELA, and will contribute to optimize evidence-based, individually tailored protective and therapeutic interventions.
Our overarching scientific objective is to unravel the epigenetic mechanisms underlying the ELA-induced etiology of mental disorders, with particular focus on sex-specific differences and on mechanisms mediating changes in synaptic connectivity in prefronto-limbic brain circuits, which may result in an enhanced risk to develop mental disorders such as major depression and ADHD. We hypothesize that during critical periods in neonatal brain development ELA “reprograms” gene expression via epigenetic modifications and thereby affect the establishment and functional maturation of synaptic circuits, which mediate synaptic plasticity in the healthy brain, and which are dysfunctional in vulnerable individuals.
We have established animal models for prenatal stress, neonatal trauma and neglect, which we analyze from the molecular (histone modifications, DNA methylation), cellular (changes of dendrites and dendritic spine plasticity), neurochemical ((dys)functions of dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin et al), functional imaging (2FDG, SPECT) and pharmacological level.
The neurobiology of fatherhood and the impact of paternal care on the behavioral and brain development of his offspring is another focus of our research, as it is still among the least researched topics in neuroscience. The emphasis on mothering in the literature stands in contrast to the fact that father absence has been repeatedly identified as a risk factor for conduct disorders, delinquency, and violence. In a biparental animal model, Octodon degus, we study the impact of paternal deprivation on the development of prefronto-limbic circuits in his offspring´s brain. Observations in humans suggest that the first months of motherhood are accompanied by structural changes in brain regions implicated in maternal motivation and behaviors, however, very little is known about neuronal plasticity in the paternal brain. In our animal model we investigate changes in metabolic activity patterns and in synaptic connectivity in the paternal brain.