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Neuroscience Center Zurich

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: Exposure to stressful experiences is one of the major risk factors for developing mood and anxiety disorders. My group uses mice to study the organism-wide consequences of stress in a complex mammalian system, with a focus on the locus coeruleus – noradrenaline system. In our innovative research program we combine modern multi-omic techniques (from single-cell sequencing to epigenomic screens) with circuit-neuroscience tools (e.g. optogenetics, photometry) to dissect the mechanisms that distinguish healthy stress coping from maladaptive stress-related disease. Because stress is a whole-organism response, in which the central nervous system tightly regulates energy homeostasis across the body, our work spans three major levels of analysis, from single cells to brain circuits and ultimately to behavior.

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

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

Publications: PubMed     





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

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

Publications: PubMed
Daniel Düring


Dr. Daniel Düring, Junior Group Leader
Institute of Neuroinformatics, ETH Zurich and  University of Zurich

Research focus: My research focuses on resolving the structural and molecular profile and dynamic changes of neural circuits underlying vocal learning in songbirds. Songbird vocal behavior is the prime model system for studying the neural mechanisms underlying human speech development. Birdsong research holds the potential to help us understand healthy vocal systems and design better treatments for speech and language disorders, which affect millions of children worldwide. To investigate the brain circuits controlling birdsong, I use state of the art techniques, some of which I have developed in the past years, with focus on examining the ultra structure of large, unsectioned volumes of the brain using expansion and light sheet microscopy (ExLSM), and viral vector targeting strategies.

Keywords: behavioral neuroscience, vocal learning, connectomics, multi-omics, structural and functional neuro-imaging, expansion light sheet microscopy, photometry, viral vector targeting, neuro-genetic sensors and effectors

Topic: Neural Basis of Behavior, Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience

Publications: Google Scholar





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



gapp katharina


Dr. Katharina Gapp

Lab of Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience , Institute for Neuroscience, ETH Zurich

Our research evolves around environmentally increased neuropsychiatric disease risk and the associated changes of the epigenome. We study both directly exposed mice and their offspring, which through a mode of DNA-sequence independent inheritance are often affected by parental exposures as well. The mechanism of such non-genetic effects still remains to be elucidated, but undoubtedly involves the germline. The germline is protected, to a large extent, from environmental impacts by the Weissman barrier. However, it also relies on soma-​germline stress hormone signaling for proper germ cell development and function. A lot of recent work, including our own, has shown that chronic environmental challenges, such as dietary changes or chronic stressors, can change the epigenetic makeup of germ cells. However, little is known how an acute somatic signal – like for example the activation of the sympathetic nervous system – can mechanistically break the Weissmann barrier and reach the germline. We use a range of innovative technologies, including in vivo crispR cas9 (gene level), pharmacological small molecules (protein level), siRNA (RNA level) in combination with a variety of bulk, low input and single cell sequencing techniques to manipulate and analyze the epigenome and ultimately understand behaviour, metabolism and disease risk in the model organism mouse.

Keywords: epigenetics, non-coding RNA, non-genetic inheritance

Topic: Disorders of the nervous system, Molecular and cellular Neuroscience

Publications: Google Scholar


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





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


Annika Keller


Dr. Annika Keller
Division of Neurosurgery, University Hospital Zurich

Research Focus: We are elucidating molecular mechanisms by which vascular dysfunction in the CNS leads to neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration.
Our current research focuses on unravelling the molecular mechanisms by which pericyte dysfunction leads to microvessel calcification. We are also investigating the consequences of vessel dysfunction on neural function, especially focusing on the dysregulation of microglia and astrocyte function in pathological microvessel calcification.

Keywords: blood-brain barrier, pericytes, endothelium, neuroinflammation, microvessel calcification

Topic: Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience






Prof. Dr. Isabelle Mansuy
Brain Research Institute, University of Zurich and ETH Zurich

Research Focus: The laboratory is interested in the epigenetic basis of complex brain functions and their inheritance. With a focus on childhood trauma, we are studying the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the influence of life experiences on mental and physical health across generations. We developed a transgenerational mouse model of postnatal trauma, and are investigating epigenetic processes at the level of DNA, RNA and protein in whole tissues and individual cells including brain and germ cells. DNA methylation, small and long non-coding RNA, chromatin structure and accessibility and their causal relevance for the expression and the transmission of trauma symptoms are examined. The major goal is to clarify the functional interplay between the genome and epigenome in the inheritance of environmentally-induced phenotypes. We also conduct translational studies on blood, saliva and sperm of human subjects exposed to childhood trauma in collaboration with clinicians and psychiatrists to validate findings in mice, and explore the potential for diagnostic and therapeutic strategies based on epigenetic factors.

Keywords: Epigenetics inheritance, childhood trauma, mouse model, brain, germ cells, multi-omics, RNA-seq, bisulfite pyrosequencing, ATAC-seq, ChIP-seq, CRISPR-dCas9, 3D cellular models, behavior, bioinformatics, psychiatry.

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

Publications: PubMed



Martin Müller


Prof. Dr. Martin Müller
Institute of Molecular Life Sciences, University of Zurich

Research Focus: We are interested in understanding how characteristic functional properties of synapses are established, maintained, and modulated. What are the mechanisms that stabilize synapse function, and how are these mechanisms related to processes that alter synaptic activity? We study these questions using a combination of genetics, electrophysiology, and functional imaging of synaptic transmission in Drosophila. We are also in the process of translating interesting findings from Drosophila into the mammalian central nervous system. We hope that our work may help unraveling the mechanisms that are involved in preventing uncontrolled neural activity during neural pathology, while providing the nervous system with the capacity for change.

Keywords: Synaptic transmission, homeostatic plasticity, synaptic plasticity, electrophysiology, Ca2+ imaging, genetics, Drosophila, mouse brain slices

Topic: Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience



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


Patriarchi Tommaso


Prof. Dr. Tommaso Patriarchi
Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Zurich

Research Focus:  The sheer complexity of neural communication relies on the production and secretion of various neurochemicals. A central question in neuroscience is to understand how precise fluctuations of these molecules relate to behavioral and/or disease states. Yet, technologies capable of addressing this question in living animals with the required spatiotemporal resolution and molecular specificity are largely lacking.

Our Group focuses on developing novel genetically encoded fluorescent sensors based on combined engineering of fluorescent proteins and endogenous receptor molecules (e.g. G-protein coupled receptors) to enable specific and high-resolution optical dissection of neurochemical dynamics in living animals. We aim to combine these molecular tools with state of the art in vivo imaging techniques (fiber photometry, two-photon imaging, optoacoustics) for investigating how neurochemicals orchestrate complex behavioral functions.

Keywords: genetically encoded sensors, GPCRs, fluorescent proteins, neuromodulators, neuropeptides, neuroimaging.

Topics: Biomedical Technology, Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience

Publications: Google Scholar

Richetto Juliet


Dr. Juliet Richetto
Institute for Veterinary Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Zurich

Research Focus: Main research interests are centered upon the question of how early-life environmental adversities, such as prenatal infection or prenatal maternal isolation, can influence brain development and shape the risk of long-term brain abnormalities. Currently, we are investigating whether maternal social isolation, and concomitant pharmacological interventions, lead to genome-wide alterations in DNA methylation and gene expression in the offspring’s brain, which in turn may impact pathways and neuronal systems that underlie behavioral functioning. In addition, we are starting to explore how the microbiome may affect CNS functioning through epigenetic mechanisms. Our research is performed in mice models and combines behavioral neuroscience, neuroanatomical investigations, transcriptomics and epigenomics.
Keywords: Epigenetics, social isolation, prenatal infection, prenatal stress, depression, transcriptomics, microbiome

Topics: Disorders of the nervous system, Neural basis of behavior, Molecular and cellular neuroscience.

Peter Rupprecht


Dr. Peter Rupprecht
Brain Research Institute, University of Zurich

Research Focus: The main purpose of the brain is to adapt our behavior to a changing environment. But how does this occur at the level of individual neurons? In other words: how does a neuron in the brain receive feedback to improve the behavior of the organism? To study these feedback loops, we will develop tools to record and control the neuronal activity and behavior in mice. Specifically, we will use and further advance two-photon microscopy for calcium imaging in hippocampus, single-cell electrophysiology and closed-loop behavioral paradigms. Key components of our work are careful experimental design as well as in-depth data analysis rather than large-scale experiments or screens. We believe that such well-thought-out experiments and analyses are ideally suited to tackle the most challenging problems in neuroscience.

Keywords: hippocampus, calcium imaging, microscopy, patch-clamp, credit assignment problem, biological learning, deep learning

Topic: Neural Basis of Behavior, Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience

Publications: Google Scholar



Ruslan Rust


Dr. Ruslan Rust, Junior Group Leader
Institute for Regenerative Medicine, University of Zurich

Research Focus: Our research focuses on generating novel cell-based therapies in preclinical stroke models. We have recently generated a scalable neural cell source from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) under xeno-free conditions that can be continuously tracked in vivo. These cells will be genetically engineered with a brain-shuttle system to facilitate systemic delivery across the brain barriers. To circumvent immune rejection, transplants will co-express distinct immunosuppressive molecules together with safety checkpoints. Efficacy of these advanced cell therapies will be evaluated through an experimental pipeline comprising i.a. in vivo imaging, deep learning-based behavioral profiling, and spatially resolved transcriptomics. The generated findings will be valuable to advance cell therapy for brain injury further towards clinical applications in the foreseeable future.

Keywords: Cell therapy, iPSCs, NPCs, stroke, brain injury, CNS, regeneration, preclinical animal models, in vivo imaging, big data analysis, deep learning

Topic: Disorders of the Nervous System, Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience

Publications: Google Scholar



Saab Aiman


Prof. Dr. Aiman Saab
Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Zurich

Research Focus: Myelinating oligodendrocytes and astrocytes are suggested to play an important role in maintaining neuronal functions and long-term integrity. In white matter tracts, axons are almost completely ensheathed by myelin and the axonal compartment may receive metabolic support from surrounding glial cells. Our research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms governing neuron-glial interactions and metabolic cooperation. How do myelinating oligodendrocytes and astrocytes sense neuronal activity and how are these signals translated into maintaining neuronal functions in the young and aging brain? Could perturbations in glial metabolic support to axons impact the etiology and pathogenesis of age-related neuropsychiatric and degenerative diseases? To address these questions we combine molecular genetics, electrophysiology, in vivo and ex vivo two-photon imaging, histology, electron microscopy and behavioural studies in various transgenic and knockout mouse models to investigate cellular mechanisms regulating intercellular communication, brain energy homeostasis and cellular integrity.
Keywords: white matter, axon-glial interactions, myelinated axons, oligodendrocytes, astrocytes, axonal integrity and energy metabolism, neurodegeneration
Topics: Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, Disorders of the Nervous Systems, Biomedical Technology and Imaging

Publications: PubMed



Prof. Dr. Gerhard Schratt
Institute for Neuroscience (INS), ETH Zurich

Research Focus: The correct formation and use-dependent modification of neuronal networks in the brain is a prerequisite for higher cognitive functions and complex behaviours. Disturbances in these processes can lead to severe neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders, such as autism and affective disorders. Research over the last three decades has identified activity-dependent gene expression programs that control the formation and plasticity of neuronal synapses. However, these studies mostly focussed on the role of protein-coding genes, which are encoded in less than two percent of our genomic material.

In our lab, we want to understand the function of different classes of RNAs that originate from non-coding parts of the genome (so-called non-coding RNAs) in mammalian synapse development and plasticity. A major focus is on microRNAs, small regulatory RNAs that control the expression of protein-coding genes at the post-transcriptional level. Therefore, we employ a systems approach, combining state-of-the art genomics, proteomics and mouse genetic approaches. In addition, we are addressing a potential clinical relevance of non-coding RNA pathways in different neurological conditions through multicentre collaborations.

Keywords: excitatory synapse development, synaptic plasticity, homeostatic plasticity, non-coding RNA, microRNA, knockout mice, hippocampus, social behaviour, epilepsy

Topic: Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience

Publications: PubMed



Martin Schwab


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



Lukas Sommer


Professor 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



Esther Stoeckli


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



Ueli Suter


Prof. Dr. Ueli Suter
Institute of Molecular Health Sciences, Department of Biology, ETH Zürich

Research Focus: Neuron-Glia Interactions & Myelination in Development, Plasticity & Disease

Keywords: Myelin, plasticity, regeneration, repair, neuropathy, multiple sclerosis

Topic: Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience


Shiva Tyagarajan


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


Thomas Wälchli


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



Bruno Weber


Prof. Dr. Bruno Weber
Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Zurich

Research Focus: Our group uses a wide range of imaging tools to study the cell-to-cell communication pathways involved in energy metabolism and information processing in cerebral cortex. Furthermore, we are working on dissecting the interaction of neurons and astrocytes with the vascular system, which is responsible for maintaining adequate delivery of oxygen and energy substrates to the brain. As well as studying these systems, the development of imaging systems for in vivo research is an additional research focus of the group.

Keywords: Brain energy metabolism, glia, astrocyte-neuron-interaction, lactate

Topics: Biomedical Technology and Imaging, Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience




Hanns Ulrich Zeilhofer


Prof. Dr. Hanns Ulrich Zeilhofer
Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Zürich, and Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, ETH Zürich

Research Focus: The spinal dorsal horn serves a pivotal role as the first site of cellular and synaptic integration of somatosensory information. It plays a key role in diseases such as chronic pain and itch. Our group focuses on the organization and function of dorsal horn neuronal circuits and their plasticity in different pathologies. We use a variety of neuronal tracing techniques to analyse the integration of dorsal horn neurons into neuronal circuits in mice and combine virus-based and genetic tools to manipulate specific subpopulations of dorsal horn neurons in vivo. Behavioral test and in vivo 2-photon imaging and electrophysiology are used to study the function of neurons and circuits under physiological conditions and in chronic pain and itch states.  

Keywords: Spinal cord, interneurons, circuits, pain

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

Publications: PubMed