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




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



gapp katharina


Dr. Katharina Gapp, Junior Group Leader

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



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