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URPP Adaptive Brain Circuits in Development and Learning (AdaBD)

The development of prefrontal cortex and executive functions in mice

Research project

The prefrontal cortex of the mammalian brain is essential in the regulation of psychological processes such as attention, multi-sensory learning, and impulsivity - so-called executive functions. Relative to other brain regions, the maturation of the prefrontal cortex is completed relatively late, specifically in late adolescence. Two important consequences of the above are that executive functions are typically less well-developed in children and adolescents compared with adults, and the prefrontal cortex and executive functions are susceptible to environmental challenges during development that can lead to neuropsychiatric disorders. To study and understand these brain-behavior processes in detail, human, animal, and modelling studies are essential.


This project directly addresses (mal)adaptive brain circuits in development and learning. In mice, the age at development of adult levels of multi-sensory learning in the visual and somatosensory domains are being assessed. For that, a protocol for a task of multisensory learning already has been established in which training and testing can be conducted within a 2-week period, including in juvenile/adolescent mice aged 5-6 weeks. Therefore, it is feasible to study at which age adult-level behavior develops in adolescent mice. This analysis will be followed by the identification of some concurrent changes in specific populations of glutamate and GABA neurons in the prefrontal cortex. Then, the effects of reduced socialization during adolescence on prefrontal cortex maturation and multi-sensory learning will be studied. Computational modelling with the generated data will further allow for improved understanding of the inter-dependence between development, prefrontal cortex, and multi-sensory learning. 

Research groups

Principal investigators: Theofanis Karayannis, Benjamin Grewe, Christopher Pryce

PhD students: Sarah Wicki, Roy Missall