What happens in the brain when we are not doing anything in particular? In other words, what is going on when the human brain is ‘at rest’? One might think the brain’s functional activity decreases to a low-maintenance baseline – similar to the screen saver of a computer. In the early 2000s, neuroscientist noticed for the first time a coherent set of brain regions that systematically increased (not decreased!) in idling humans. In contrast to the computer screen saver, in the baseline of the brain, some regions remain highly active and potentially never really “stop working”. Together these energy-hungry regions subserve a yet-to-be-uncovered baseline function of the human brain - which became known as the ‘default mode network’ (DMN).
In its developmental history, man has gone through many stages until he became the complex creature he is. We have known this since Darwin's theory of evolution at least. However, the fact that some of today's creatures, which are normally not seen in a close relationship to humans, share characteristics with us is always surprising. A team of scientists from the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion) and RWTH Aachen University recently discovered that the perception of barn owls has certain similarities with the perception and information processing of primates. Prof. Hermann Wagner, member of JARA-BRAIN and head of the Institute of Biology II (Zoology) RWTH Aachen, was significantly involved in the study.
The German Research Foundation (DFG) has approved 15 proposals for new Research Training Groups. Prof. Marc Spehr was also successful with his project. The JARA-BRAIN scientist received a funding commitment for the Research Training Group "MultiSenses-MultiScales: Novel approaches to decipher neural processing in multisensory integration".
The human brain is an organ of incredible complexity, composed of a hundred billion interconnected nerve cells. However, even with the help of the most powerful supercomputers available, it is currently impossible to simulate the exchange of neuronal signals in networks of this size. Researchers of Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany, RIKEN, Kobe and Wako, Japan, and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Sweden, have made a decisive step towards creating the technology to achieve simulations of brain-scale networks on future supercomputers of the exascale class. Simultaneously, the new algorithm significantly speeds up brain simulations on existing supercomputers.
Dr. Danilo Bzdok (JARA-BRAIN), who holds a professorship for social and affective neuroscience at the Clinic for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, was the only German scientist to receive the renowned award for' Rising Star' of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) in the USA.
German Federal Minister of Education and Research Johanna Wanka paid a visit to University Hospital Aachen on 28 July, making RWTH Aachen University the first stop of her summer tour. As part of her visit, minister Wanka therefore spoke in particular with the young scientists involved in the research alliance. In three separate sessions, the minister learned about current research being conducted.
The Human Brain Project (HBP) is developing a shared European research infrastructure with the aim of examining the organization of the brain using detailed analyses and simulations and thus combating neurological and psychiatric disorders.
The results of a meta-analysis conducted by JARA-BRAIN scientist Prof. Dr. Thomas Nickl-Jockschat and Dr. Claudia Eickhoff show: A COMT gene variant does not necessarily influence brain performance in people with schizophrenia. Past imaging studies indicated a correlation between this gene defect and brain activity patterns.
Around 800,000 people in Germany suffer from schizophrenia. Nevertheless, this mental illness is not as well researched as depression or dementia. A new, large-scale research project is set to change this. On 12 May 2015 at the specialized clinic for psychiatry and psychotherapy “LVR-Klinik” in Düren, Parliamentary State Secretary Thomas Rachel together with representatives of the brain research alliance JARA-BRAIN officially launched the research project “APIC – Antipsychotic-induced structural and functional changes in the brain”. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is providing APIC with funding worth € 4 million.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness which can manifest itself in many different forms. This makes accurate diagnostics even more important: it is the only way for the best possible, individually defined therapies to be selected for each patient. But according to JARA-BRAIN scientist PD Dr. Irene Neuner, there is still some room for improvement: “Around 30 % of therapies are currently ineffective.” TRIMAGE, which the psychiatrist is involved with, will help change this.
A joint meeting of the Search Committees will be held on 10 April 2015 at Forschungszentrum Jülich to discuss the appointment of the future JARA directors. On this occasion, the JARA-BRAIN scientists and candidates for the posts of director Prof. Ute Habel, Prof. Kerstin Konrad, Prof. Frank Schneider, and Prof. Jörg B. Schulz will present the research priorities of the future institutes as well as insights into their own research work.
The acoustic CR neuromodulation method developed by JARA-BRAIN scientist Prof. Peter Tass is a promising treatment. This method disturbs the synchronous firing of the neurons by using electrical stimulation. Recent research work has now shown that this therapeutic approach can be improved by incorporating sufficiently long pauses between the stimulation of the neurons even if very weak stimulations are used.
At the end of January 2015, this year’s Winter School of the International Research Training Group (IRTG) “Schizophrenia and Autism” took place at the RWTH Aachen University’s guest house. The IRTG is part of the JARA-BRAIN section. Over 50 current and former PhD students from Philadelphia, Jülich, and Aachen took part in presentations and discussions at the three-day event. The Winter School was opened by Sabine Mönkemöller, Programme Director at the German Research Foundation with responsibility for IRTG 1328, and Prof. Dr. Ernst Schmachtenberg, rector of RWTH Aachen University.
In IRTG 1328, PhD students from various disciplines conduct research on scientific issues concerning the psychiatric disorders of schizophrenia and autism. The researchers work in the specialist departments of University Hospital Aachen as well as at Forschungszentrum Jülich and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (USA). IRTG 1328 is currently in its second funding period.
This month, the European research collaboration European Friedreich’s Ataxia Consortium for Translational Studies (EFACTS) published its research findings in The Lancet Neurology. JARA-BRAIN scientist Prof. Dr. Jörg B. Schulz, director of the Department of Neurology in University Hospital Aachen and spokesperson for the Aachen centre for rare diseases (ZSEA), heads the patient registry and a study on the natural course of the disease. Together with his senior physician Prof. Dr. Kathrin Reetz (JARA-BRAIN) and an expert team from University Hospital Aachen, he published the data from a prospective cross-sectional study.
Successful translation: the amino acid 18F-fluoroethyl tyrosine (FET), which was developed by JARA-BRAIN scientists, has been licensed for the first time as a radiopharmaceutical agent for the diagnosis of brain diseases in humans by the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products.
The JARA-BRAIN scientist Dr. Irene Neuner received the German Association for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics’s (DGPPN) 2014 research award for her outstanding research achievements in the area of innovative imaging. The award was presented for the first time to three scientists at the DGPPN Annual Congress in Berlin and is endowed with € 5,000 for each winner.
Mental illness is one of the most frequent illnesses of children and young people. This is also reflected in the number of patients treated at University Hospital Aachen's Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics, and Psychotherapy. The number of patients here has increased by over 70 % in the past few years. This is why the hospital is extending its premises. In an interview, JARA-BRAIN scientist and head of department, Prof. Beate Herpertz-Dahlmann, outlines the new facilities available at the child and adolescent psychiatry department.
A gift voucher for the cinema, praise from your parents, or nothing at all: rewards are regarded as desirable to a different extent. In a study by University Hospital Aachen's Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics, and Psychotherapy, JARA-BRAIN scientists recently investigated which incentives had an effect on healthy test subjects, as well as on patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism. The findings will help to tailor treatment as closely as possible to the needs of certain groups of patients.
Children with reading difficulties benefit from targeted training programmes. As a result, their brain activity increases in the area of the brain known as the visual word form area. This was shown by a study with primary school pupils conducted by JARA-BRAIN scientist Prof. Dr. Stefan Heim and his team. The findings were recently published in the journal Brain Structure & Function.
Autists may be able to recite bus timetables and movie showtimes. However, they find it difficult to recognize feelings such as happiness or sadness in other people. JARA-BRAIN junior professor Prof. Dr. Thomas Nickl-Jockschat and a team of researchers recently discovered that an anomaly in the visual centre is partly responsible for this deficit.
JARA-BRAIN scientists have discovered that respiration and brain function correspond more closely with each other than previously believed. The results of their research have been published in the internationally respected journal Nature Communications.
JARA-BRAIN scientist Prof. Dr. Hermann Wagner has become a member of the Academy of Science and Literature in Mainz. The professor of biology at RWTH Aachen University has been named a full member of the mathematical-scientific branch of the academy.
As part of a new start-up project at RWTH Aachen University, JARA-BRAIN junior professor Dr. Martin Schulte-Rüther is investigating the effectiveness of innovative social interaction training in increasing the social competence of individuals with autism.
Patients suffering from brain tumours benefit particularly from state-of-the-art hybrid devices that combine positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These hybrid devices provide information on numerous aspects of the disease in a single examination. This has been shown in a study recently published in the Journal of Nuclear Medicine.
The urine of mice contains major urinary proteins (MUPs). These proteins convey important information about the animal, for example about its aggressive or mating behaviour. Together with international cooperation partners, JARA-BRAIN scientist Prof. Marc Spehr has now shown for the first time how these different types of information are produced and recognized. The research findings have been published in the highly respected journal Cell.
According to MIT Technology Review, brain mapping is one of the ten most influential technologies of 2014. The Jülich neuroscientist Prof. Katrin Amunts is one of the most important actors worldwide in this field. This is why in its recently published list of 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2014, the science magazine named the JARA-BRAIN scientist as a key player.
A new 3-tesla MRI scanner is currently being installed at University Hospital Aachen’s Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. The Magnetom Prisma’s gradient field strength and gradient slew rate are unrivalled by any other 3-tesla system currently on the market.
Dr. Nils Kohn’s start-up project has been given the green light: the JARA-BRAIN scientist won a competition for RWTH Aachen University funding. His research project on the role of empathy in economic decisions will be funded with a total of € 18,960 from 1 April 2014.
Prof. Kathrin Reetz, senior physician at the Department of Neurology, was appointed professor (grade W2) of imaging for neurodegenerative diseases at University Hospital Aachen. The neurologist had previously been working as a JARA-BRAIN junior professor at both Forschungszentrum Jülich and the Department of Neurology at University Hospital Aachen.
Researchers have investigated the interaction between astrocytes – non-neuronal cells – and excitatory neurons. The membrane protein connexin 30, which is found in astrocytes, appears to play a crucial role in signal transduction in the hippocampus, a region of the brain connected with learning and memory processes. JARA-BRAIN scientists were involved in the research project, whose findings have been published in the high-impact journal Nature Neuroscience.
The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) will support a new research network for mental illness from summer 2014. One of the nine collaborative projects selected, which were presented by Federal Research Minister Prof. Dr. Johanna Wanka in Berlin, is the research collaboration entitled “APIC – Antipsychotic-induced structural and functional changes in the brain” coordinated by JARA-BRAIN scientists.
Prof. Dr. Dirk Feldmeyer has recently been appointed a member in the Wellcome Trust Peer Review College. The JARA-BRAIN scientist will act as a reviewer for the Wellcome Trust, initially for a period of three years.