Sensory Systems

susanne becker


PD Dr. Susanne Becker
Integrative Spinal Research Group, Department of Chiropractic Medicine, Balgrist University Hospital, University of Zurich

Research Focus: The experience of pain is more than the conscious perception of nociceptive signals. Emotional and motivational aspects accompany pain, leading to its aversiveness and motivation for escape and avoidance. Moreover, it has been proposed that a negative hedonic shift, comprising unproportionally increased emotional-motivational pain responses, plays an important role in the development and maintenance of chronic pain. Our group focuses on the investigation of psychobiological mechanisms of dissociations of emotional-motivational and sensory-discriminative components of pain in health and disease states, using psychophysical methods, pharmacological interventions, and brain imaging techniques. Specifically, we investigate the role of the neurotransmitter dopamine, functional connectivity in fronto-striatal brain networks, and supraspinal neuroinflammation in the proposed negative hedonic shift in chronic pain.

Keywords: pain modulation, emotional-motivational pain processing, dopamine, fMRI, psychophysics

Topic: Cognitive Neuroscience, Sensory Systems



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






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




Giroud Nathalie


Prof. Dr. Nathalie Giroud
Computational Neuroscience of Speech & Hearing, Department of Computational Linguistics, Phonetics and Speech Sciences, University of Zurich

Research Focus: In our group we investigate mechanisms of language processing in the brain using a variety of neuroimaging techniques (e.g. EEG, MRI) as well as psychophysical and neuropsychological testing. Our research focuses on the neural underpinnings of the highly prevalent age-related hearing loss and speech perception difficulties in older adults. We are working towards understanding its impact on the brain and its relationship with cognitive decline in healthy individuals and in older adults with neuropathology such as Alzheimer’s disease. The long-term goal of our research is to develop rehabilitation strategies for audio(-visual) speech processing difficulties in healthy older adults and individuals with mild cognitive impairment and dementia. Furthermore, we are also interested in understanding the association between hearing loss and brain atrophy, cognitive mechanisms of audiovisual speech processing, as well as bilingualism and foreign language learning in an aging population.

Keywords: hearing loss, aging, dementia, language, speech processing, neural entrainment, EEG, MRI, audiovisual processing, cognition

Topics: Cognitive Neuroscience, Sensory Systems






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