Sensory Systems

Ayaz Asli


Dr. Asli Ayaz
Brain Research Institute, University of Zurich

Research Focus: We perceive the outside world as a result of continuous sensorimotor interactions. We guide our gaze to what we want to look at; we choose and approach what to touch smell or taste.  In addition our motor actions are carried out in the light of sensory inputs. Our research focuses on understanding how sensory inputs are integrated with motor actions to produce a unified percept. We specifically investigate sensorimotor circuitry of somatosensation during active exploratory behavior in head-restrained mobile mice. We use 2-photon calcium imaging to measure neuronal activity and benefit from viral and genetic constructs to dissect and manipulate the circuitry.

Keywords: sensory processing, locomotion, in vivo physiology, optical imaging, sensorimotor integration, neural circuits

Topics: Sensory systems, Neural basis of behavior



Wolfgang Berger


Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Berger 
Institute of Medical Molecular Genetics, University of Zurich

Research Focus: Our research activities are focussing on genetic diseases of the retina. We have identified a number of genes and mutations involved in Mendelian traits. High throughput sequencing technologies (NGS) are used to identify additional mutations and novel genes. Mouse models are being used to study the pathophysiology of monogenic human diseases as a prerequisite to implement therapeutic approaches. Additional areas of research include angiogenic processes in the retina and brain, pre mRNA splicing as well as gene-therapeutic approaches for treatment of retinal degenerations.

Keywords: Eye diseases, genetic associations, therapeutic intervention, retinal development and diseases

Topic: Sensory Systems






Dr. Giovanni Bertolini, Junior Group Leader
Department of Neurology, University of Zurich

Research Focus: The aim of the Swiss Space Travel and AiR Sickness (SSTARS) group is to investigate the mechanism of habituation and learning of self-motion perception in novel motion environments. A novel motion environment is any condition in which our brain fails to correctly interpret the motion stimuli. Such environments (from cars and ships to virtual reality and artificial gravity environments) cause motion sickness, spatial disorientation and other syndromes affecting performance and social interaction (sopite syndrome, mal de débarquement). Within our research activity, we develop non-invasive habituation protocols to counteract these conditions. The applications range from vestibular rehabilitation, acceptance of novel emerging technology (self-driving cars, virtual reality systems), quality of life and safety in transport systems. An important focus is on vestibular physiology for aviation and space flight (in flight, micro- and artificial gravity) in collaboration with the German Aerospace Center – DLR and the Swiss Aeromedical Institute.

Keywords: Motion sickness, vestibular space physiology, artificial gravity, virtual reality sickness, self-motion perception, sensory habituation

Topics: Sensory systems, Disorder of the nervous system, Neural Basis of Behavior



Tobi Delbruck


Prof. Dr. Tobi Delbruck
Institute of Neuroinformatics, University and ETH Zurich

Research Focus: The sensors group at INI led by myself and PD Dr. Shih-Chii Liu develops neuromorphic silicon vison and audio sensors and methods for processing their output. These sensors and processing methods are inspired by the organizing principle of the nervous system. For instance, the brain uses spikes to transmit analog signals over long distances without losing precision by using interspike time intervals and spike coincidence to encode analog information. One of the main sensors is the dynamic vision sensor (DVS). The DVS encodes visual information by transmitting spikes in response to log intensity changes. This way, the sensor achieves very high dynamic range and can help beat the classical latency-power tradeoff suffered by conventional image sensors. We also develop many robots to demonstrate the advantages of the neuromorphic approach.

Keywords: neuromorphic, sensor, vision, eye, retina, cochlea

Topics: Sensory Systems, Computation and Modeling




Norbert Dillier


Prof. Dr. sc. techn. Norbert Dillier
Laboratory of Experimental Audiology, ENT Department, University Hospital Zürich

Research Focus: The focus of our research projects is to better understand and improve the function of auditory prostheses such as cochlear implants, conventional and implantable hearing aids.

The main goals are to enhance the speech discrimination performance, especially in acoustically challenging environments and to improve the sound quality for music perception with these devices.

New methods for programming and optimization of sound processors using objective electrophysiologic measures and modeling approaches are a major area of research. Other areas of research are the use of bilateral electrical or the combined electrical acoustical stimulation for improved binaural sound processing.

Keywords: Physiology and pathology of the human auditory system, diagnostic and rehabilitative applications of modern electronics and digital signal processing in audiology, auditory prostheses

Topic: Sensory Systems


Publications: pubmed




PD Dr. med. Dr. med. dent. Dominik Ettlin
Center of Dental Medicine, UZH

Research Focus: Our clinical focus is the biopsychosocial evaluation and management of patients suffering from athrogenic, myogenic and neurogenic trigeminal pain disorders. The interdisciplinary team includes dentists, physicians, psychologists and neuroscientists.

We aim at better understanding peripheral and central pathomechanisms underlying these disorders, utilizing primarily functional magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy (fMRI and fMRS). We developed several MR-compatible setups for reliable stimulation of extra and intraoral structures.

We are also interested in behavioral aspects of pain. By collecting multicenter clinical data, we analyze potential pain etiologies and modifying factors.

Keywords: trigeminal sensory system, nociception, (orofacial) pain, brainstem and cortical pain fMRI, fMRS, questionnaires, clinical pain trials

Topics: Sensory Systems, Neural Basis of Behavior, Disorders of the Nervous Systems, Biomedical Technology and Imaging, cognitive neuroscience

Publication: PubMed



Roger Gassert


Prof. Dr. Roger Gassert
Rehabilitation Engineering Lab, Department of Health Sciences and Technology, ETH Zurich

Research Focus: We apply robotics, wearable sensor technology and non-invasive neuroimaging to the exploration, assessment and restoration of sensorimotor function, with the goal of promoting recovery following neurological injury and developing assistive technologies for the compensation of remaining deficits.

Keywords: physical human-machine interaction, rehabilitation robotics, haptics, assistive technology, neural control of movement, neuroimaging, neurofeedback

Topics: Sensory Systems, Motor Systems, Disorders of the Nervous System, Biomedical Technology and Imaging






Prof. Dr. Benjamin F. Grewe

Institute of Neuroinformatics, ETH Zurich

Research Focus: My primary research focus is directed towards understanding the basis of information processing and memory formation in neuronal networks using experimental as well as computational approaches. Currently my research at the INI investigates basic concepts of information processing and memory formation in limbic neuronal networks, using miniaturized cutting-edge imaging techniques to record learning induced changes in neuronal network activity of mice. Aligning with the combined strengths of the INI and in collaboration biomedical and electrical engineering groups my long-term vision is to extract fundamental principles of network-learning from real biological networks and then to reverse engineer their functionality as logical, reproducible algorithms that be implemented in software or directly as electrical circuits. I am convinced that reverse-engineering neural learning algorithms that mimic human thinking will one day change the importance of intelligent technologies in our everyday life

Keywords: systems and computational neuroscience, population coding, neuronal network learning, deep learning, spiking network simulations, calcium imaging, two photon microscopy, miniaturized microscope, freely moving, behavior

Topic: neural basis of behavior, computation and modeling, sensory systems







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



Alexander Huber


Prof. Dr. med. Alexander Huber
Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, University Hospital Zurich

Research Focus: In our laboratory for biomechanics of hearing we develop a comprehensive understanding and a detailed theoretical model of the physiological and pathological processes of the peripheral auditory system (from the pinna to the auditory nerve).

The objectives are 1) Experimental studies of physiological and pathological processes of hearing, 2) The development of a detailed mathematical model of hearing, and 3) The optimization and development of hearing aids and hearing prostheses in collaboration with the industry. We are an interdisciplinary research team of graduates from different specialties, with competence in investigation techniques of acoustics, vibro-mechanics, fluid dynamics, electrophysiology and behavioral audiometry by taking into account the latest measurement technology.

Keywords: Hearing, Biomechanics, Implants

Topics: Sensory Systems, Biomedical Technology and Imaging





Prof. Dr. Theofanis Karayannis
Brain Research Institute, University of Zurich

Research Focus: The brain begins to form during embryogenesis, but undergoes a protracted period of development that lasts into adulthood. Our work is aimed at understanding how the environment moulds the construction and reconfiguration of neuronal circuits to allow them to effectively process and respond to external stimuli throughout development. The goal is to unravel how the interplay between electrical activity and genetic programs controls the assembly and plasticity of cortical circuits that are involved in processing and gating sensory information. To achieve this, we utilize a multi-dimensional approach that includes molecular, genetic and functional methods. It is our hope that this research will not only provide insights into the making of the healthy brain, but also into neurodevelopmental brain pathologies resulting from aberrant circuit wiring.

Topics: Development and Regeneration, Sensory Systems, Disorders of the Nervous System, Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, Neural Basis of Behavior


Daniel Kiper