Our environment is constantly changing. Successful survival under these conditions implies that our behavior has to be flexible as well. We experience different places and contexts, have to conduct different tasks in a rapid sequence and need to constantly develop and re-arrange acting strategies. These abilities are not inherited, but develop with age and their regression forms the core of several pathologies. It is commonly held that in mammalian species the prefrontal cortex is the hub brain area accounting for the flexibility of minds (i.e. cognitive flexibility).

The Research Unit 5159 has been launched in January 2022. Our mission is to decipher the dynamic principles of prefrontal processing underlying cognitive flexibility.

Upcoming Events

Ofer Yizhar, Associate Professor, Dept. of Brain Sciences, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel





Title: Optogenetic dissection of local and long-range connections in prefrontal circuits


The prefrontal cortex (PFC) plays an important role in regulating social functions in mammals, and impairments in this region have been linked with social dysfunction in psychiatric disorders. The PFC plays a part in multiple brain-wide networks regulating behavior, and its long-range connections to different cortical and subcortical targets are thought to be involved in distinct behavioral functions. How is information about the multitude of cognitive/behavioral processes routed into and out of the PFC circuit? We are interested in understanding how PFC microcircuits process behavioral information, and how distinct PFC output neuron populations regulate learning, decision-making and social behavior.

I will first describe a set of experiments aimed at understanding the structure of synaptic connectivity among amygdala-projecting neurons in the mPFC. Using single-neuron two-photon optogenetic stimulation and imaging, we demonstrated that these neurons show unique layer-specific connectivity features compared with randomly-sampled mPFC neurons. I will then describe our efforts to engineer new optogenetic tools for silencing of long-range axonal projections between brain regions. To efficiently suppress synaptic transmission, we engineered a new set of bistable rhodopsins that selectively couple to the Gi/o signaling pathway and can be used to suppress synaptic release in vitro and in vivo, in a spatially and temporally-precise manner.

Title: Towards functional maps of the mouse prefrontal cortex


The structure and function of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) across species remain unresolved. Taking ad­vantage of the technological toolbox available to studies in rodents, our studies aim to outline the mouse PFC through integration of structural, molecular and functional characteristics. Whole-brain tracing of connectivity and spatial transcriptomics give a novel and unbiased view of structure of the mouse PFC. The connectivity outlines the mouse PFC as a module with dense intraconnectivity, questioning independ­ent processing in discrete prefrontal subregions. In line with this, higher cognitive functions are considered to be integrative rather than localized. Non-localized functions of the PFC can only be revealed by studies focusing on the PFC as a whole and large-scale Neuropixels recordings have opened up for massive and concurrent sampling of neuronal activities across the subregions of the prefrontal cortex. I will in my talk present our finding on how the PFC can be annotated based on neuronal activity and what the neuronal activities reveal about hierarchy and local and non-local functions in prefrontal subterritories.

Awards & Achievements

Burkhart Bromm-Promotionspreis 2022 awarded to Dr. Jastyn A. Pöpplau

Thomas Bayes-Nachwuchsförderpreis 2022 awarded to Dr. Artur Schneider

Herausragende Abschlussarbeiten (Masterarbeiten, Promotionen) auf dem Gebiet der Datenanalyse und Modellbildung in den Lebenswissenschaften.

                                                                   Image source: Patrick Seeger/Universität Freiburg

Bernstein-CorTec-Award 2022 awarded to Dr. Artur Schneider

Hervorragende wissenschaftliche Leistungen in Promotionen oder Masterarbeiten von Promovierenden oder Studierenden der Universität Freiburg in einem für Computational Neuroscience und Neurotechnologie relevanten Thema.

                                                                  Image source: Patrick Seeger/Universität Freiburg


Conserved structures of neural activity in sensorimotor cortex of freely moving rats allow cross-subject decoding

Nature Communications, Issue 12 2022