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URPP Adaptive Brain Circuits in Development and Learning (AdaBD)

From animals to humans and back

A core aspect of our research is to relate animal to human learning, and to link learning to neural circuit function. Eventually, our goal is to translate mechanistic insights from basic research to the clinics. We want to improve developmental delay diagnosis and to design innovative treatment strategies.

Animal models are indispensable for dissecting circuit functions, but learning and cognitive capabilities differ between humans and animals. Thus, it is not straightforward to directly map animal behavior and circuit mechanisms onto human brain function and behavior. However, identifying shared learning-related processes across species and revealing their common characteristics is a great asset. We are developing tasks and computational models that can be conducted in parallel in mice, healthy humans, and patients. We use them to investigate multi-sensory learning, an important cognitive function that may be fundamentally disrupted in developmental disorders. Use of the same tasks and models in these parallel investigations makes it possible to detect the neural circuit mechanisms underlying behavioral deficits in patients and to study them at the circuit and molecular level in animals.

The ultimate goal is to translate new mechanistic insights about neural circuit function gained through coordinated animal and human research into the clinics by developing improved diagnostic tools and treatment strategies. Surprisingly, sensory and multi-sensory behaviors that require integrative circuit functions are typically not assessed during developmental delay diagnosis, even though they likely are disrupted in such patients and may even represent core symptoms. We thus plan to incorporate our new standardized multi-sensory behavioral assay into the standard test battery for developmental delay diagnosis. Further, the identification of the molecular and genetic mechanisms of impaired neural circuit development would help to counsel parents and health care professionals by predicting developmental trajectories and facilitate tailored therapeutic interventions.

Projects

Functional brain network mechanisms underlying multisensory learning

In this project, we developed tasks to assess multi-sensory learning in humans and combined
them with fMRI measurements in healthy adults. We want to identify brain areas involved in learning of multi-sensory associations.

Research groups: Christian Ruff, Fritjof Helmchen, Silvia Brem

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Neural basis of multisensory learning and processing during child development (ChildBrainCircuits)

We adapt and apply the tests developed in adults to children with typical development and with developmental language disorders during behavioural and neuroimaging assessments.

Research groups: Silvia Brem, Anita Rauch, Nora Raschle, Michael von Rhein, Christian Ruff

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Neural origins of disrupted magnitude processing and risk taking in dyscalculia (NumRisk)

In this project, we are studying the neural origins of disrupted magnitude processing in dyscalculia.

Research groups: Christian Ruff, Karin Kucian, Silvia Brem

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Development and evaluation of an intervention for adolescents and adults with dyscalculia (SMILE)

In an interventional study, we aim to develop a support program and to evaluate its effectiveness regarding math performance and neuronal changes in the brain of adolescents and adults with dyscalculia.

Research groups: Karin Kucian, Christian Ruff, Silvia Brem, Elisabeth Moser-Opitz (external collaborator, Institute of Education and DSN-ZH)

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Structural basis of mild developmental delay in the developing human brain connectome

In this project, we are establishing techniques to reveal human brain connectome features that may differ in patients with developmental delay.

Research groups: Andras Jakab, Bea Latal, Michael von Rhein, Valerio Mante

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The impact of clinical risk and environmental resilience factors on brain circuits learning: A network connectivity analysis in adolescents with congenital heart disease

We are testing the effect of clinical risk and environmental factors on brain connectivity and learning.

Research groups: Bea Latal, Andras Jakab

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The effect of early childhood and in-utero trauma on brain development, educational outcomes, and professional attainment: Large-scale evidence from the UK Biobank

Research groups: Christian Ruff, Valerio Mante, Platform SEED HDDA

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The genetic contribution to mild neurodevelopmental impairments in congenital heart disease: direct or indirect effect

We identified genetic variants in a cohort of patients with congenital heart disease and developmental delay.

Research groups: Bea Latal, Anita Rauch

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