Department of Psychology
Tel. +41 44 635 7400
In vivo examination of the human brain in order to uncover structure-function relationships (cognitive neuroanatomy). Cortical mapping of cognitive (i.e., auditory and spatial processes), emotional, and sensorimotor functions applying functional magnetic resonance imaging. Functional and anatomical plasticity in the context of regular learning and ontogenesis in healthy and neurologically impaired subjects (structural magnetic resonance imaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging, cognitive neuroanatomy, cortical and functional plasticity, auditory system, cognition, emotion, sensorimotor system).
1 professor, 1 senior research fellows, 2 postdoctoral fellows, 5 PhD students, 1 secretary
One of the research fields in neurosciences is the analysis of relationships between brain structure and function in humans, a research field which has been entitled as “Cognitive Neuroanatomy” by Sandra Witelson (1992) . While in the beginning, researchers looked for structure-function relationships by analysing various parts of post mortem brains, the tremendous pace of development in brain imaging technologies has revolutionised our ability to investigate brain structure and function. Techniques are now available to capture features of the anatomy and function of whole brain scales, mapping neuronal dynamics and gene expression as well as growth and degeneration processes that span multi-layer time scales both for post mortem and in vivo cases. A major goal of our studies was to analyse how the whole brain or parts of it varies across age, gender, disease, in large human populations, due to external stimulation, or whether there are between-hemisphere differences. A specific question of our laboratory was to study macrostructural anatomical changes in exceptional subjects including high professional musicians.
Figure 1: The left brain shows a representative example of a brain of an absolute pitch musicians with an exceptional larger left-sided planum temporale. The right brain is taken from a professional musician without absolute pitch.
Applying functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques (fMRI) we have studied auditory, spatial, and sensorimotor functions. In the auditory domain we have delineated the different auditory areas including the planum temporale, the sulcus temporalis superior, and the dorsal inferior frontal gyrus region which are all involved in various psychological functions during phonetic perception. The studies conducted to uncover those brain areas controlling “mental rotation” processes revealed that the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) is the core region for “mental rotation”. Interestingly, there was a strong gender difference with women also using areas lined up in the ventral stream during “mental rotation” while men only rely on the dorsal stream including the IPS. Finally, a further part of our work has examined the functions of the lateral and mesial premotor areas during sensorimotor processes. A major finding of our research was that the pre-SMA is involved in the up-dating of motor programs while SMA-proper is more strongly involved in the execution of complex movements. Auditory, spatial, and sensorimotor functions and their concomitant cortical activations are also studied in the context of short-term and long-term learning. A special paradigm for studying cortical plasticity is the brain of highly professional musicians because most musicians start very early in life with musical practice sometimes before the age of 5 years. In addition, throughout their life they continue to practise their musical skills many hours a day. Therefore, we assume that the brain of musicians is an ideal paradigm to study brain plasticity.
We will continue our efforts in the fields of cognitive neuroanatomy and cortical mapping of cognitive functions applying modern brain imaging methods. A special interest is placed on the study of highly professional musicians.
64 channel EEG, neuropsychological laboratory, psychophysical laboratory, high-end workstations including specific software for neuroanatomical analysis, access to various MRI imaging systems.
Cognitive Neuroscience, Clinical Neuropsychology, Brain Imaging
German Research Association (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG), EU Research Funding
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