Forschergruppe FOR 1341 "Barrel Cortex Function"

Groupleader: Prof. Dr. H. J. Luhmann

The cerebral cortex is organized horizontally in layers and vertically in cortical columns. Although the structural and functional properties of a cortical column have been intensively studied in a variety of mammalian species, the “canonical circuit” of a cortical column and the interaction between different columns is still largely unknown. Over the last years it became clear that understanding neocortical information processing does not only require a detailed knowledge of the synaptic circuitry at the single cell level, but also an in-depth analysis of the columnar network activity at the population level. The rodent barrel cortex offers unique opportunities for studying sensory processing in a cortical column and to correlate whisker-related behaviour with neuronal activity in a well-defined cortical map.

The overall aim of this Swiss-German Research Unit is: Understanding the function of a neocortical column by using the rodent barrel cortex as a model for neuronal information processing within a neocortical module.

The specific objectives are:

  • To describe the inhibitory and excitatory synaptic circuitry within a barrel-related cortical column and to understand general principles of neuronal information processing, i.e. excitatory feedback circuits within a cortical column.
  • To study large-scale network activity in order to reveal the role of intra- and inter-columnar interactions in spontaneous and sensory-driven activity patterns.
  • To examine defined synaptic microcircuits and large-scale neocortical networks during UP- and DOWN-states in order to elucidate state-dependent modifications of neuronal information processing.
  • To understand the neocortical network mechanism participating in or generating a distinct sensor-related behaviour. To understand the processing of task-specific neuronal signals.
  • To understand the activity-dependent mechanisms that lead to the formation of a cortical column during the pre-critical period and its modification during subsequent developmental stages.
  • To develop, test and install novel behavioural tasks, which will allow detailed electrophysiological or population imaging analyses of behaviourally relevant neocortical circuits.
  • To develop in cooperation with our two industrial partners and our international partner in Taiwan novel techniques to monitor single cell and neuronal network activity in freely moving animals.

Funding period 1: 2010-2012

Funding period 2: 2013-2015