Scientific Mission

The Institute of Translational Neuroscience is an independent research institution at the Medical Faculty of the Westfälische Wilhelms-University Münster embedded in the Department of Mental Health at the Münster University Medical Center (UKM, Director: Prof. Dr. med. Bernhard Baune). It is dedicated to provide new options for diagnostic and/or therapeutic strategies for human diseases of the nervous system. This “bench to bedside” approach builds on molecular research pursued during the last 30 years which paved the avenue for novel therapeutic strategies to be assessed in man. It follows the idea that neuroscience is a discipline providing understanding of human disease and eventually its cure, rather than to explain man itself. Translation defines the goal of basic research, the patient. While experimental studies are pursued in close collaboration with the Institute of Anatomy, University of Cologne (Director: Prof. Dr. med. Johannes Vogt), clinical studies are performed in close collaboration with the Institute of Translational Psychiatry, WWU Münster (Director: Prof. Dr. med. Dr. phil. Udo Dannlowski).

In addition to translational research, philosophical aspects of the mind-body debate are addressed and a focus of the Institute’s teaching activities. The ever-recurring attempts of the neurosciences to explain all mental phenomena in physical terms alone are revised by critical reappraisal of classical concepts, e.g. Wilder Penfield’s “storehouse of memories”. Our analyzes question the idea of a realization of memory in solely naturalistic terms. These studies are performed in part at the Montreal Neurological Institute (Prof. Dr. Richard Leblanc, Prof. Dr. Jack Antel), Quebec, Canada, and in close collaboration with Prof. Dr. med. Frank Stahnisch at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Latest publications

Endle H, Horta G, Stutz B, Muthuraman M, Tegeder I, Schreiber Y, Snodgrass IF, Gurke R, Liu ZW, Sestan-Pesa M, Radyushkin K, Streu N, Fan W, Baumgart J, Li Y, Kloss F, Groppa S, Opel N, Dannlowski U, Grabe HJ, Zipp F, Rácz B, Horvath TL, Nitsch R, Vogt J (2022). AgRP neurons control feeding behavior at cortical synapses via peripherally-derived lysophospholipids. Nature Metabolism 4(6):683-692.

Abstract:

Phospholipid levels are influenced by peripheral metabolism. Within the central nervous system, synaptic phospholipids regulate glutamatergic transmission and cortical excitability. Whether changes in peripheral metabolism affect brain lipid levels and cortical excitability remains unknown. Here, we show that levels of lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) species in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid are elevated after overnight fasting and lead to higher cortical excitability. LPA-related cortical excitability increases fasting-induced hyperphagia, and is decreased following inhibition of LPA synthesis. Mice expressing a human mutation (Prg-1R346T) leading to higher synaptic lipid-mediated cortical excitability display increased fasting-induced hyperphagia.Accordingly, human subjects with this mutation have higher body mass index and prevalence of type 2 diabetes. We further show that the effects of LPA following fasting are under the control of hypothalamic agouti-related peptide (AgRP) neurons. Depletion of AgRP-expressing cells in adult mice decreases fasting-induced elevation of circulating LPAs, as well as cortical excitability, while blunting hyperphagia. These findings reveal a direct influence of circulating LPAs under the control of hypothalamic AgRP neurons on cortical excitability, unmasking an alternative non-neuronal route by which the hypothalamus can exert a robust impact on the cortex and thereby affect food intake.

(full article)

 

Chalas, N., Daube, C., Kluger, D. S., Abbasi, O., Nitsch, R., & Gross, J. (2022) Multivariate analysis of speech envelope tracking reveals coupling beyond auditory cortex. NeuroImage, 119395.

Abstract:

The systematic alignment of low-frequency brain oscillations with the acoustic speech envelope signal is well established and has been proposed to be crucial for actively perceiving speech. Previous studies investigating speech-brain coupling in source space are restricted to univariate pairwise approaches between brain and speech signals, and therefore speech tracking information in frequency-specific communication channels might be lacking. To address this, we propose a novel multivariate framework for estimating speech-brain coupling where neural variability from source-derived activity is taken into account along with the rate of envelope's amplitude change (derivative). We applied it in magnetoencephalographic (MEG) recordings while human participants (male and female) listened to one hour of continuous naturalistic speech, showing that a multivariate approach outperforms the corresponding univariate method in low- and high frequencies across frontal, motor, and temporal areas. Systematic comparisons revealed that the gain in low frequencies (0.6 - 0.8 Hz) was related to the envelope's rate of change whereas in higher frequencies (from 0.8 to 10 Hz) it was mostly related to the increased neural variability from source-derived cortical areas. Furthermore, following a non-negative matrix factorization approach we found distinct speech-brain components across time and cortical space related to speech processing. We confirm that speech envelope tracking operates mainly in two timescales (δ and θ frequency bands) and we extend those findings showing shorter coupling delays in auditory-related components and longer delays in higher-association frontal and motor components, indicating temporal differences of speech tracking and providing implications for hierarchical stimulus-driven speech processing.

(full article)