Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience

Dietmar Benke


PD Dr. Dietmar Benke
Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Zurich

Research Focus: GABAB receptors control neuronal excitability by mediating slow inhibitory neurotransmission. They are involved in virtually all main brain functions and have been implicated in numerous neurological disorders making them attractive drug targets. Our research focuses on the regulation of GABAB receptors by trafficking mechanisms and interacting proteins under normal and pathological conditions. Our ultimate goal is to uncover mechanisms of GABAB receptor dysregulation in disease states and use this information for designing novel therapeutic strategies. Current projects concentrate on the regulation of GABAB receptor cell surface expression by phosphorylation, ubiquitination and interacting proteins and its contribution to neuronal plasticity. In addition, we explore the potential to prevent downregulation of GABAB receptors in cerebral ischemia with small synthetic peptides interfering with protein-protein interactions as a novel neuroprotective strategy.

Keywords: GABAB receptor, trafficking, plasticity, neurological disorders

Topic: Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience

Publications: pubmed



Johannes Bohacek


Prof. Dr. Johannes Bohacek
Lab of Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Institute for Neuroscience, ETH Zurich

Research Focus: We are interested in understanding the organism-wide consequences of stress, and how the complex stress-response leads to changes in behavior and increases the risk for neuropsychiatric disease. We use mice as a model organism to study stress-induced effects in the CNS, but also in the germline. We use optogenetic, transcriptomic, pharmacologic, epigenetic and behavioral approaches combined with assisted reproductive techniques.

Keywords: stress, anxiety, transcriptome, hippocampus, epigenetic inheritance, epigenetics

Topics: Neural Basis of Behavior, Disorders of the Nervous System, Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience

Publications: pubmed       



Steven Brown


Prof. Dr. Steven Brown 
Chronobiology and Sleep Research Group, Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Zurich

Research Focus: Humans are diurnal animals.  Not only is one-third of our lives spent asleep, but nearly all aspects of physiology vary according to time of day, directed by biological “circadian” clocks in nearly all cells of the brain and body.  Our laboratory is interested in the molecular mechanisms that govern these clocks and their control of sleep, using a mixture of biochemistry, microscopy and electrophysiology in genetically modified mice and human cellular model systems.  For example, we have shown recently how particular families of ion channels control cortical oscillations during sleep, how RNAs are directed to synapses by clock-associated proteins, and that dynamic DNA methylation in the brain can reprogram daily transcriptional cycles.

Keywords: Sleep, circadian clock, transcription, inhibitory synapse, IPSC, RNA transport, metabolism

Topics: Sleep & Sleep Disorders, Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, Neural Basis of Behavior

Publications & Website:



Prof. Dr. Denis Burdakov

ETH Zurich, Department of Health Sciences and Technology (D-HEST)

Research focus: Neural algorithms and behaviour

How does the brain solve complex problems? The Burdakov lab studies brain computations that convert sensory context into appropriate actions, appetites, and arousal. Our experiments focus on specific genetically-defined brain cells, but our questions are more general, overlapping with fields such as robotics (what control algorithms are best for performance in an uncertain world? what are their strengths and weaknesses?).  To answer such questions, the lab studies how information is represented by specific neural clusters to sway decisions.

This is achieved by tracking real-time brain network dynamics (using in vivo genetically-targete­­d calcium reporters, electrophysiology) associated with quantified voluntary actions, while manipulating sensory contexts (internal and external body state) and genetically- and temporally-defined elements of neural computations (using optogenetics, chemogenetics). These sensorimotor measurements are interpreted with the help of computational simulations that formally assess the performance of particular sensorimotor algorithms in defined tasks.  By elucidating what different parts of the brain do, how they do it, and what makes them perform well or badly, this work provides fundamental information that can be used for designing better medical treatments for brain disorders.

Topics: Neural basis of behaviour, computation and modelling, molecular and cellular neuroscience, disorders of the nervous systems


Giovanni Camici


PD Dr. Giovanni G. Camici

Head of Center for Molecular Cardiology, University of Zurich

Research Focus: Molecular mechanisms by which aging affects vascular function and how these mechanisms are relevant to major age-related disorders such as stroke. The main hypothesis of this team is based on the idea that aging and cerebrovascular disease such as stroke, occur through similar mechanisms oftentimes involving the generation of highly reactive and deleterious “reactive oxygen species” (ROS). In line with this hypothesis, several genes which mediate the process of aging are also involved in the generation of ROS.

Keywords: Aging, stroke, vascular/endothelial dysfunction, thrombosis, ROS.

Topic: Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience

Publications: pubmed





Dr. med. habil. Igor Delvendahl
Institute of Molecular Life Sciences, University of Zurich

Research focus: Activity-dependent plasticity of synaptic transmission is essential for learning and memory, but uncontrolled changes in synaptic transmission can lead to unfavorable levels of excitability. Dysfunctional plasticity and failure to maintain stability of synaptic transmission have been linked to various pathological conditions. Our research interests are centered on how synapses allow activity-dependent adaptations while maintaining a stable level of activity. We apply a combination of subcellular electrophysiology, functional imaging, and genetics to study synaptic transmission and plasticity at mammalian central synapses. Our research aims at unraveling fundamental mechanisms underlying robustness and plasticity of synaptic transmission with a strong focus on presynaptic function. We hope that our work will provide important conceptual insights into how synaptic transmission can be modulated under physiological and pathophysiological conditions.
Keywords: synaptic transmission, cerebellum, synaptic plasticity, electrophysiology, Ca2+ imaging, mouse brain slices

Topic: Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience



Prof. Dr. Csaba Földy
Brain Research Institute, Laboratory of Neural Connectivity, University of Zurich

Research Focus: We are interested in the role of synapses in brain function. Synapses serve as fundamental sites of information transmission between neurons, with different synapses characterized by different qualities of that transmission. Frequently, these qualities are associated with the type of neurons being connected. We reason that if synaptic transmission forms the basis of information processing in the brain, and that synaptic properties can be studied in a cell-type specific manner, we will reach a deeper understanding of the brain’s information processing by performing molecular and computational analyses of synapses, as defined by their connected cell types. In pursuit of this interest, we use electrophysiology, molecular biology, and computational modeling analyses.

Topics: Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, Computation and Modeling



Christian Grimm


Prof. Dr. Christian Grimm
Department of Ophthalmology, Lab for Retinal Cell Biology, University Hospital Zurich

Research Focus: Although many patients worldwide suffer from retinal degenerations, there are currently no therapies for the successful treatment of most blinding diseases of the retina. Our work focuses on biochemical events and signaling cascades during retinal degenerations. The goal is to understand the molecular pathways induced by the disease-causing stimuli to develop strategies (neuroprotection, gene therapy) which may ultimately rescue vision in patients.

Current projects focus i) on intercellular signaling with special emphasis on the interaction between photoreceptors and Müller glia cells; ii) on leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) with respect to its potential function as modulator of stem cell-like properties of Müller cells; iii) on the analysis of cone pathophysiology using a newly developed ‘all-cone mouse’; and iv) on acute and chronic hypoxia as potent modulators of photoreceptor survival and degeneration, respectively.

Keywords: Retinal degeneration, hypoxia, leukemia inhibitory factor, retina, blindness, cones, neuroprotection, gene therapy

Topics: Sensory Systems; Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, Disorders of the Nervous System




Edna Grünblatt


Prof. Dr. Edna Grünblatt

Translational Molecular Psychiatry, University Clinic of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Zurich

Research Focus: We are interested in finding risk factors and biomarkers for child and adolescent psychiatric disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), early-onset obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Autism spectrum disorders (ASD), psychosis and environmental /stress effects. In addition, the laboratory focuses on functional mechanisms of action of gene variants found to associate to a specific disorder as well as mechanism of action of drug therapies in various neuronal cellular models. Since psychiatric disorders are not only polygenetic predisposed but also influenced by environmental factors, epigenetic is another factor investigated in the lab. This could provide additional tools for early and differential diagnosis as well as therapy prediction.

Keywords: ADHD, ASD, biochemistry, child and adolescent psychiatry, epigenetic, genetic, molecular biology, neurodevelopmental disorders, neuronal cellular models, OCD, psychosis, transcriptomics

Topics: Development and Regeneration, Disorders of the Nervous System, Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience


Publications: pubmed