Research Group of Michael Brecht


Our research group analyses cellular mechanisms underlying sensorimotor integration. The model system we focus on is the active touch/vibrissal system of mammals.

We pursue research questions from a strictly systemic, neuroethological perspective. We pose a wide range of questions to understand better the systemic performance of active touch mediated by the vibrissae. We therefore investigate multiple brain structures and our investigations range from intracellular recordings to the analysis of behavioral performance.

We have strong interest in structure-function relationships in the nervous system. Progress in such questions has been limited so far, because many of the currently used techniques for registering cellular activity do not identify the cellular origin of the recorded signals. We try to overcome this problem by using techniques (e.g. in vivo whole-cell recordings), which allow us to recover the recorded neurons.

Determining the role of single neurons in behavior is a central goal of our research. The function of single “peripheral” sensory- or motoneurons has been successfully described in terms of their stimulus/response or response/movement relationships. Such a descriptive approach has been less rewarding for determining the functional significance of activity in “central” cortical neurons and has led to rather incongruent ideas about the role of single cortical neurons. We confront this problem by stimulating single cortical neurons and testing the effect on movement, sensation and learning. This approach reverses conventional physiological research, where APs are studied as correlates of sensorimotor processing. This novel way of studying brain function is implemented by development and application of new stimulation techniques that allow evoking APs in identified cells in the rodent vibrissae somatosensory and motor cortex.

Many aspects of cellular processing in the mammalian brain are being studied with the same techniques for last 60 years and systems neuroscience in general has suffered from the fact that relatively few new recording techniques became available. We therefore put a lot of emphasis on technique development.

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