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Neuroscience Center Zurich

Development and Regeneration

Bachmann Ruxandra



Prof. Dr. med. Ruxandra Bachmann-Gagescu

Institute of Medical Genetics, University of Zurich

Research Focus: Our research focuses on a group of human Mendelian disorders called ciliopathies which are unified by shared genetic causes resulting in primary cilium dysfunction. Primary cilia are small non-motile organelles present on the surface of most vertebrate cells where they are involved in transduction of sensory, mechanical or chemical signals and in regulation of signaling pathways during development and cell homeostasis. Typical clinical presentations of ciliopathies include neurological involvement, retinal degeneration and renal fibrocystic disease, as illustrated by Joubert syndrome (JS), an iconic ciliopathy which is the main focus of our research. To understand the consequences of mutations in JS-associated genes at the molecular level, we combine observations from human genetics studies on JS-patients with modelling in the zebrafish and in human iPSC-derived neurons using state-of-the-art techniques such as CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing or live imaging of transgenically-tagged ciliary proteins.

Keywords: ciliopathies, primary cilia, Joubert syndrome, zebrafish, iPSC

Topics: Development and Regeneration, Disorders of the nervous system





Prof. Dr. Daniel Brandeis 
Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Zurich, University of Zurich

Research Focus: We focus on mapping brain functions and plasticity in typical development, neurodevelopmental disorders, and treatment with electrical and multimodal imaging (EEG-fMRI, MRS, with S. Brem). Clinical projects cover longitudinal brain mapping in common neurodevelopmental disorders like Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), aggression and Dyslexia. We characterize timing, localization and genetics (with E.  Grünblatt) of compromised networks as endophenotypes as state dependent deficits during rest, attention, inhibition, reward processing, or print tuning etc.  For clinical translation we focus on neurofeedback and biofeedback training (with R. Drechsler), and evaluate potential biomarkers using multimodal approaches.

Keywords: ADHD, dyslexia, OCD, conduct disorder, development, plasticity, functional brain mapping, EEG, ERP, fMRI, MRS,  neurofeedback, biofeedback, longitudinal studies, reading, attention, genetics, gene x environment interactions.

Topics: Disorders of the Nervous System, Development and Regeneration, Cognitive Neuroscience, Biomedical Technology and Imaging

Publications: PubMed



Judith Burkart


Prof. Dr. Judith Burkart
Department of Anthropology, Evolutionary Cognition Group, University of Zurich

Research Focus: The Evolutionary Cognition Group studies human and nonhuman primates to better understand the evolutionary origin of humans’ social, motivational and cognitive processes. A particular focus is on cooperative breeding (i.e. the reproductive system where group members other than the parents significantly contribute to infant rearing) which convergently evolved in humans and marmoset monkeys. We noninvasively study marmoset monkeys in captivity and in the wild using a diverse set of approaches, including cognitive tests batteries, behavioral experiments probing their prosociality and other psychological traits, observational studies, automated behavioral monitoring, acoustic analyses, endocrinology, and thermography as noninvasive measure of emotional arousal.

Keywords: comparative psychology, endocrinology, thermography, automated behavioral and acoustic monitoring, vocal communication

Topics: Cognitive neuroscience, development and regeneration

Publications: Google Scholar





Prof. Dr. phil. Moritz M. Daum
Department of Psychology, Developmental Psychology: Infancy and Childhood, University of Zurich

Research Focus: The overarching aim of the Research Group “Developmental Psychology” is to address the roots of infants’ and young children’s perception and understanding of their social world. The understanding of others as social agents is one of the most fundamental skills in our everyday social life. It is crucial for any engagement in cooperative and communicative activities. In our research, we are particularly interested in the mechanisms that form the bedrock of infants’ action perception, the interrelation of infants’ early action perception comprehension to the control of their own actions, the selective implementation of observed actions in one’s own actions.

Current projects focus on the (neuro-)cognitive processes underlying infants’ and young children’s action understanding, the interrelation of action understanding and action performance across the whole lifespan, the interrelation of language and action in development, and the development of the self.

Keywords: developmental psychology, infancy, life span, cognitive development, action perception language, imitation, eye tracking, EEG

Topics: Development and Regeneration, Neural Basis of Behavior, Cognitive Neuroscience

Publications: PubMed




Edna Gruenblatt


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





Prof. Dr. Reto Huber
University Children’s Hospital Zurich and University Clinics for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Zurich

Research Focus: Sleep wake regulatory mechanisms seem to be casually related to cortical plasticity. More specifically, wakefulness favours synaptic strengthening or synapse formation. On the other hand, sleep, in particular deep sleep, promotes synaptic weakening or synapse elimination, ensuring synaptic homeostasis. Cortical plasticity plays a key role for brain maturation. A large body of evidence indicates that aberrations in the trajectory of cortical plasticity are linked to the development of psychiatric disorders. We investigate mechanism underlying the interplay between sleep and wakefulness and how such mechanisms may impact the remodelling of cortical circuits during development and therefore might be related to the susceptibility of psychopathology.

Keywords: sleep regulation, cortical maturation, synaptic plasticity, high-density EEG, MRI, closed-loop stimulation

Topics: Sleep and Sleep Disorders, Development and Regeneration

Publications: PubMed





Prof. Dr. Sebastian Jessberger
Brain Research Institute, University of Zurich

Research Focus: New neurons are continuously generated in two discrete areas of the adult brain – the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus and the subventricular zone of the lateral ventricles. Our group is interested in the underlying biology of adult neurogenesis, including the fate plasticity of adult neural stem cells (NSCs) and the molecular mechanisms governing stem cell activity and neuronal integration. Currently, we use gene expression profiling together with analyses of the metabolic state of NSCs and their progeny to study the molecular framework of NSC diversity in the adult brain and to identify novel regulators of the neurogenic process. In addition, our laboratory aims to understand how physiologic and disease-associated alterations of the neurogenic niche are translated into stem cell-associated plastic changes of the adult brain on a cellular but also behavioral level.

Keywords: Neural stem cells, hippocampus, ageing

Topic: Development and Regeneration






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

Marie Labouesse


Dr. Marie Labouesse

Department of Health Sciences and Technology, ETH Zurich

Research Focus: Our team strives to understand how long-range neural circuits wire and rewire throughout the lifespan, how they contribute to behavioral function, and how we can harness new, circuit-related findings to develop pharmacotherapies to treat brain disorders. Our work focuses on the basal ganglia and their inputs and outputs (including monoamines, like dopamine), with a special interest for neural systems critical for body homeostasis, e.g. brain circuits for reward and energy seeking (motivation, feeding, addiction) and for energy output (locomotion, motor function, exercise). Through this work, we hope to contribute a deeper understanding of the postnatal ontogeny and adult plasticity of basal ganglia circuits. We also aim at developing and screening targeted therapeutic approaches to treat basal ganglia and dopamine related brain disorders. This includes illnesses such as mood disorders, eating disorders, addiction, obesity or Parkinson’s disease.

Keywords: wiring, experience, neural circuits, basal ganglia, behavior, optical tools, in vivo fluorescent imaging, biosensors, pharmacotherapy, neuropharmacology, transgenic models.

Topics: Neural Basis of Behavior, Development and Regeneration

Publications: Google Scholar





Prof. Dr. Nicolas Langer
Methods of Plasticity Research, Department of Psychology, University of Zurich

Research Focus: Our lab develops and obtains new neurophysiological and neuroimaging measures in the context of human brain and behavioral plasticity. Specifically, we investigate the potential for plasticity, mechanisms for stabilization and compensation across the lifespan. In particular, we investigate the relationship between brain plasticity and cognitive functioning, such as perceptual processing, learning, (working-) memory, decision-making and processing speed.
In this context of neuroplasticity research, we are designing and implementing novel multi-modal paradigms (e.g. combined EEG eye-tracking), extracting and associate them with state of the art neuroscientific methods, such as functional network models, machine learning, longitudinal analyses and computational modeling. These paradigms can also be used to decompose the critical component processes underlying performance of the behavioral tests that are used routinely in clinical diagnosis. This multi-level, multi-modal design allows us to study cognitive performance and perception at their desired level of analysis, and to elucidate variations in performance across the continuum from healthy to pathological functioning. To investigate those research aims and objectives, we are using a variety of psychological and neuroscientific methods, such as EEG, eye-tracking, structural MRI & DTI, psychophysiology)
Keywords: EEG, eye-tracking, cognitive modeling, machine-learning, cognition, multi-modal imaging, structural MRI, DTI, development, neurophenotyping, Research Domain Criteria (RDoC).

Topics: Cognitive Neuroscience, Computation and Modeling, Neural Basis of Behavior, Development and Regeneration

Publications: PubMed Google Scholar



Notter Tina


Dr. Tina Notter
Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Zurich

Research Focus: The main research focus of our group is to define the role of astrocytes in postnatal synaptic refinement of the prefrontal cortex (PFC). One distinctive feature of the PFC is its protracted adolescent maturation, which is necessary for acquiring mature cognitive abilities in adulthood. One of our primary aims is to determine the role of astrocytes in the structural and functional maturation of the PFC.  Long thought to act merely as a structural support of neurons, astrocytes are now known to actively integrate, process and contribute to neuronal signaling. They are essential for early brain development regulating synaptogenesis and assuring correct wiring of the brain. More recently, astrocytes have been shown to actively participate in the rewiring of neuronal connections during brain maturation, a process involving the elimination of superfluous synapses, whereby neuronal circuits are optimized. Using a multi-disciplinary approach including chemogenetics, in-vivo two-photon imaging, immunohistochemistry, and behavioral analyses in mouse models, we investigate whether astrocyte-dependent synaptic elimination is indispensable for the normal development of neuronal networks subserving adult cognitive functions. In addition, we thrive to unravel the functional and behavioral consequences of aberrant astrocyte activity in the matured PFC. We hereby focus on understanding how astrocytes actively integrate, process and contribute to PFC synaptic signaling and thereby modulate behavioral and cognitive functions with relevance to psychiatric disorders.

Keywords: Astrocytes, medial prefrontal cortex, brain maturation, adolescence, synaptic refinement, cognition, behavior, psychiatric disorders

Topics: Neural Basis of Behavior, Development and Regeneration, Molecular and Cellular

Publications: PubMed


Tuura Ruth


Dr. Ruth O'Gorman Tuura
University Children's Hospital Zurich, Center for MR Research

Research Focus: Our research focuses on the application of advanced MRI methods for evaluating brain physiology, such as arterial spin labelling perfusion MRI, edited MR spectroscopy, diffusion tensor MRI, functional MRI, and quantitative MR Relaxometry, to studies of brain development in children and adolescents. This multimodal approach yields important insight into the complex pattern of physiological changes associated with typical and atypical brain development, but also with different brain states like sleep and wake states. Together with our clinical collaborators, we aim to improve our understanding of the neural correlates of atypical development, and identify neuroimaging biomarkers for outcome in infants and children at risk for neurodevelopmental impairment. We also support interdisciplinary clinical research across a range of specialties including neonatology, cardiology, radiology, paediatrics, neurology, and psychiatry

Keywords: neuroimaging, structural MRI, MRS, DTI, fMRI, perfusion MRI, development, sleep

Topics: Development and Regeneration” and “Sleep and Sleep Disorders”

Publications: Scopus



Roccio Marta


PD Dr. Marta Roccio
Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, University Hospital Zurich

Research Focus: Specialized sensory cells located into the inner ear translate with remarkable speed and accuracy sound-induced vibrations of different loudness and pitch into chemical signals that can be interpreted by the brain as sound. Loss or damage of these sensory cells results in permanent hearing loss as the human inner ear cannot repair after damage. The long-term goal of our research is to develop novel therapeutic strategies to counteract sensorineural hearing loss by uncovering fundamental biological principles that underlay development and disease.

We are making use of in vitro models known as “inner ear organoids”, derived from directed differentiation of pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) to gain insight into inner ear sensory organ development and use them as unique tools to model disease. In addition we exploit cochlear organoids culture from inner ear progenitors to probe tissue regenerative potential.

By leveraging recent advances in bioengineering, organoid culture and organ-on-chip technology, we aim to develop reproducible and robust in vitro models to study inner ear development, model disease and analyze drug-induced ototoxicity and otoregeneration.

Methods:  PSC derived inner ear organoid, cochlear progenitor culture, in vitro screening

Keywords: Inner ear development, Hearing loss, Neuroscience, Disease Modeling

Topics: Development and Regeneration, Sensory Systems

Publications: Scopus



Schneider Gasser


Dr. Edith M. Schneider Gasser, Junior Group Leader
Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Zürich

Research Focus: We are investigating the involvement of cerebral erythropoietin (Epo) in brain maturation and its neuroprotective role in premature brain injury.

Our current research focuses on understanding how Epo influences brain energy metabolism and the interactions between blood vessels, astrocytes and neurons. We are also investigating the protective role of Epo in models of hypoxia induced brain injury and epilepsy.

Keywords: Erythropoietin, hypoxia, epilepsy, neuroprotection, hippocampus, interneurons, brain metabolism

Topic: Development and Regeneration, Disorders of the Nervous System

Publications: PubMed





Prof. Dr. Martin E. Schwab
Laboratory of Neural Regeneration and Repair, Brain Research Institute, University of Zurich, and Dept. of Health Sciences and Technology (D-HEST), ETH Zurich
Research Focus: Growth and regeneration of nerve fibers are influenced by growth promoting or growth inhibiting signaling molecules. Our group discovered the existence of myelin-associated growth inhibitors in the adult CNS and characterized an important nerve growth inhibiting membrane protein, Nogo-A. The in vivo application of anti-Nogo-A antibodies after spinal cord or brain trauma in rats or monkeys leads to outgrowth and regeneration of injured and uninjured nerve fibers and to a high degree of functional recovery. Clinical trials in spinal cord injured patients are currently on-going.

The laboratory also analyses the functional roles of Nogo-A as a stabilizer of the CNS circuitry and of synapses, including processes of memory formation. On the cell biological level, we analyse the multi-subunit composition of Nogo-A receptors and their relation to the specific effects of Nogo-A on the neuronal cytoskeleton and gene transcription.

Keywords: Nogo-A, nerve fiber growth, regeneration, plasticity, spinal cord and brain injury, myelin, neurite growth inhibitory activity, rehabilitation

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

Publications: PubMed





Prof. Dr. Lukas Sommer
Institute of Anatomy, Division of Stem Cell Biology, University of Zurich

Research Focus: Using genetic approaches in mouse model systems combined with cell biological assays, we are investigating how self-renewal and lineage-specific differentiation are controlled in vertebrate stem cells. Our favourite research topic are neural crest stem cells, which have a very broad developmental potential and give rise to multiple tissues in our body, including most of the peripheral nervous system, craniofacial bone and cartilage, smooth muscle in the outflow tract of the heart, and melanocytes in the skin. Our research aims to identify mechanisms underlying neural crest stem cell development associated with congenital diseases, tissue regeneration, and tumor formation.

Keywords: stem cells, embryonic development, developmental disorders, cancer

Topic: Development; Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience

Publications: PubMed





Prof. Dr. Esther Stoeckli
Department of Molecular Life Sciences, University of Zurich

Research Focus: Correct wiring of the nervous system is key to its function. Many neurodevelopmental disorders, such as intellectual disability or autism, are a consequence of aberrant formation of neural networks. Our research focuses on the characterization of molecular mechanisms underlying the formation of neural circuits in health and disease using mouse and chicken embryos as model organisms. We use mainly in vivo approaches to understand the regulation of axonal behavior at intermediate targets or along their trajectories to final targets.

Keywords: axon guidance, choice points, disease genes, spinal cord

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

Publications: PubMed





Prof. Dr. Shiva Tyagarajan
nstitute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Zurich

Research Focus: Inhibitory GABAergic neurotransmission regulates neural excitability and network synchronization. Disruption in GABAergic inhibition is implicated in neuropsychiatric, neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders. The group employs diverse experimental approaches (cell biology, molecular biology, proteomics, RNA seq, morphology, confocal microscopy, protein biochemistry) to study plasticity mechanisms regulating GABAergic neurotransmission. Our research has demonstrated that activity-dependent adaptations at inhibitory postsynapse are orchestrated via the convergence of intracellular signal cascades on to the scaffolding protein gephyrin. In this process, we have developed molecular tools to specifically modulate synaptic GABAergic neurotransmission. Hence, using a combination of in vitro primary neuron culture; and in vivo animal models we study how signaling pathways regulate inhibition to alter neural excitability in both physiology and pathology. 

Keywords: gephyrin, dendritic protein synthesis, barrel cortex plasticity

Topic: Development and Regeneration, Molecular and Cellular neuroscience, Disorders of the Nervous System

Publications: PubMed





Dr. Olivier Urwyler
Institute of Molecular Life Sciences, UZH

Research focus: Formation of specific synaptic connections during central nervous system (CNS) development, and remodeling of existing neuronal circuits during adulthood (synaptic plasticity), underlie essential CNS functions such as cognition, learning, and memory. Synapse formation, plasticity and stability must be precisely controlled and balanced, and their de-regulation is associated with neurodevelopmental, psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. Nevertheless, the mechanisms that orchestrate these processes in the CNS remain largely unknown. We combine single-cell labeling with genetic manipulation in the Drosophila CNS to investigate the molecular and cellular control of synapse formation and plasticity. On the one hand, we are particularly interested in how local regulation of the actin cytoskeleton contributes to spatial specificity of synapse formation and synaptic partner choice during development. On the other hand, we aim at understanding the roles of evoked and spontaneous neurotransmission in formation and plasticity of central synapses, and maintenance of synaptic connectivity during ageing.

Keywords: Synapse formation, synaptic plasticity, CNS, Drosophila

Topic: Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, Development and Regeneration




Dr. Dr. Anna-Sophia Wahl
Brain Research Institute, University of Zurich

Research Focus: A prerequisite for the recovery of impaired brain function is the capacity of the central nervous system to induce plastic rewiring and reorganization processes after CNS injury. However, where and how neuronal connections regrow, which neuronal circuits reorganize, stabilize or disintegrate and how neuronal remodeling contributes to the functional outcome is not well understood. My work aims at understanding fundamental principles of neuronal circuit rewiring and individual neuronal recoding as intrinsic repair mechanisms of the brain recruiting intact structures to regain lost or impaired functions. From networks to function: Within my junior group we use a combination of techniques, including 2-photon calcium imaging in the behaving animal, opto- and chemogenetics, sophisticated behavioral assessments for sensorimotor and cognitive functions as well as Deep Learning computer algorithms to explore causal relationships between neuronal rewiring- from a cellular resolution till a network level- and the behavioral phenotype. Our goal is to develop novel therapeutic approaches or optimized rehabilitative strategies in stroke and vascular dementia.

Keywords: Stroke, neuronal rewiring and plasticity, neuronal repair, dementia, in-vivo imaging

Topics: Development and Regeneration, Disorders of the Nervous System

Publications: Google Scholar




Dr. Thomas Wälchli, Junior Group Leader
Division of Neurosurgery, University Hospital Zurich; and Institute for Regenerative Medicine, University of Zurich and University Hospital Zurich

Research Focus: We aim to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms that govern angiogenesis and the neurovascular unit/perivascular niche in the central nervous system (CNS), during development as well as in CNS pathologies such as brain tumors and vascular malformations.
Current projects focus on the mechanisms that regulate angiogenesis, endothelial tip cells and the neurovascular unit/perivascular niche during brain development and in the above-mentioned CNS pathologies. To that regard, we are also investigating the differences between developmental and pathological blood vessel formation.
We use interdisciplinary approaches combining in vivo and in vitro techniques as well as mouse and human tissues in order to translate the laboratory findings into clinically relevant settings such as brain tumors, vascular malformations, and stroke.
Keywords: Angiogenesis, neurovascular link, neurovascular unit/perivascular niche, endothelial tip cells, perivascular microenvironment, brain tumors, brain vascular malformations, stroke

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