B.Sc. Cognitive Science, M.Sc. Neurosciences, Ph.D. Neuropharmacology
I am interested in the way neurons interact within neuronal networks in order to allow us to process complex tasks that involve different areas of the brain. Among such tasks is the selective attention toward objects in our environment.
I am furthermore interested in investigating how dysfunctions within such neuronal networks can lead to neurological disorders, such as epilepsy. To investigate this, I used a variety of techniques and models, including in vitro and in vivo multielectrode electrophysiology, optogenetics and immunohistochemistry, as well as means of analysing data exploiting machine learning algorithms and functional connectivity analysis.
Research and publications
- Attention Configures Synchronization Within Local Neuronal Networks for Processing of the Behaviorally Relevant Stimulus
The need for fast and dynamic processing of relevant information imposes high demands onto the flexibility and efficiency of the nervous system. A good example for such flexibility is the attention-dependent selection of relevant sensory information. Studies investigating attentional modulations of neuronal responses to simultaneously arriving input showed that neurons respond, as if only the attended stimulus would be present within their receptive fields (RF). However, attention also improves neuronal representation and behavioral performance, when only one stimulus is present. Thus, attention serves for selecting relevant input and changes the neuronal processing of signals representing selected stimuli, ultimately leading to a more efficient behavioral performance. Here, we tested the hypothesis that attention configures the strength of functional coupling between a local neuronal network's neurons specifically for effective processing of signals representing attended stimuli. This coupling is measured as the strength of γ-synchronization between these neurons. The hypothesis predicts that the pattern of synchronization in local networks should depend on which stimulus is attended. Furthermore, we expect this pattern to be similar for the attended stimulus presented alone or together with irrelevant stimuli in the RF. To test these predictions, we recorded spiking-activity and local field potentials (LFP) with closely spaced electrodes in area V4 of monkeys performing a demanding attention task. Our results show that the γ-band phase coherence (γ-PhC) between spiking-activity and the LFP, as well as the spiking-activity of two groups of neurons, strongly depended on which of the two stimuli in the RF was attended. The γ-PhC was almost identical for the attended stimulus presented either alone or together with a distractor. The functional relevance of dynamic γ-band synchronization is further supported by the observation of strongly degraded γ-PhC before behavioral errors, while firing rates were barely affected. These qualitatively different results point toward a failure of attention-dependent top-down mechanisms to correctly synchronize the local neuronal network in V4, even though this network receives the correctly selected input. These findings support the idea of a flexible, demand-dependent dynamic configuration of local neuronal networks, for performing different functions, even on the same sensory input.
- Curcumin protects organotypic hippocampal slice cultures from Aβ1–42-induced synaptic toxicity
Increasing evidence demonstrates that beta-amyloid (Aβ) is toxic to synapses, resulting in the progressive dismantling of neuronal circuits. Counteract the synaptotoxic effects of Aβ could be particularly relevant for providing effective treatments for Alzheimer's disease (AD). Curcumin was recently reported to improve learning and memory in animal models of AD. Little is currently known about the specific mechanisms by which Aβ affects neuronal excitability and curcumin ameliorates synaptic transmission in the hippocampus. Organotypic hippocampal slice cultures exposed to Aβ1-42 were used to study the neuroprotective effects of curcumin through a spectral analysis of multi-electrode array (MEA) recordings of spontaneous neuronal activity. Curcumin counteracted both deleterious effects of Aβ; the initial synaptic dysfunction and the later neuronal death. The analysis of MEA recordings of spontaneous neuronal activity showed an attenuation of signal propagation induced by Aβ before cell death and curcumin-induced alterations to local field potential (LFP) phase coherence. Curcumin-mediated attenuation of Aβ-induced synaptic dysfunction involved regulation of synaptic proteins, namely phospho-CaMKII and phospho-synapsin I. Taken together, our results expand the neuroprotective role of curcumin to a synaptic level. The identification of these mechanisms underlying the effects of curcumin may lead to new targets for future therapies for AD.
- Improved methods for MRI-compatible implants in nonhuman primates
Background: Neuroscientists commonly use permanently implanted headposts to stabilize the head of nonhuman primates (NHPs) during electrophysiology and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Here, we present improved methodology for MRI-compatible implants without the use of acrylic for head stabilization in NHPs. New method: MRI is used to obtain a 3D-reconstruction of NHP skulls, which are used to create customized implants by modeling intersections with the bone. Implants are manufactured from PEEK using computer numerical control machining and coated with hydroxyapatite to promote osseointegration. Surgically, implants are attached to the skull with ceramic screws, while the skin flap is pulled over the implant and closed subcutaneously. Results: Quality of blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) fMRI signal is improved in animals implanted with our method as compared to traditional acrylic implants. Additionally, implants are well-integrated with the skull, remain robust for more than a year and without granulation tissue around the skin margin. Comparison with existing method(s): Previous improvements on NHP implants (Chen et al., 2017; McAndrew et al., 2012; Mulliken et al., 2015; Overton et al., 2017) lacked fMRI-compatibility, as they relied on titanium headposts and/or titanium screws. Thus, most fMRI studies in NHPs today still rely on the use of acrylic-based headposts for stabilization and the use of contrast-enhanced agents to improve MRI signal. Conclusions: Our method preserves fMRI-compatibility and results in measurable improvement in BOLD signal without the use of contrast-enhanced agents. Furthermore, the long-term stability of our implants contributes positively to the wellbeing of NHPs in neuroscience research.
- Neuronal-glial populations form functional networks in a biocompatible 3D scaffold
Monolayers of neurons and glia have been employed for decades as tools for the study of cellular physiology and as the basis for a variety of standard toxicological assays. A variety of three dimensional (3D) culture techniques have been developed with the aim to produce cultures that recapitulate desirable features of intact. In this study, we investigated the effect of preparing primary mouse mixed neuron and glial cultures in the inert 3D scaffold, Alvetex. Using planar multielectrode arrays, we compared the spontaneous bioelectrical activity exhibited by neuroglial networks grown in the scaffold with that seen in the same cells prepared as conventional monolayer cultures. Two dimensional (monolayer; 2D) cultures exhibited a significantly higher spike firing rate than that seen in 3D cultures although no difference was seen in total signal power (<50Hz) while pharmacological responsiveness of each culture type to antagonism of GABAAR, NMDAR and AMPAR was highly comparable. Interestingly, correlation of burst events, spike firing and total signal power (<50Hz) revealed that local field potential events were associated with action potential driven bursts as was the case for 2D cultures. Moreover, glial morphology was more physiologically normal in 3D cultures. These results show that 3D culture in inert scaffolds represents a more physiologically normal preparation which has advantages for physiological, pharmacological, toxicological and drug development studies, particularly given the extensive use of such preparations in high throughput and high content systems.