I did my M.Sc in biochemistry and my PhD in psychology, both at the Ruhr-University in Bochum, Germany. During my PhD I worked on the development of visual asymmetries in pigeons. While I was very fascinated by the huge impact of the environment on brain development I also realized that I want to focus on more clinically related research. During a research visit at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand I conducted my first study with rats investigating the effect of alcohol on the developing brain. A postdoctoral fellowship from the Leopoldina allowed me to work at the McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA. Here, I have gained a greater understanding of psychiatric disorders and how to model behavioral aspects and the underlying neurobiology in rodent models. Bringing all these experiences together I was able to start my own research group investigating neurobiological mechanism of psychiatric disorders at the Clinic of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy in Tübingen, Germany. When I was offered the junior-professorship for Experimental and Molecular Psychiatry at the LWL-Universityhospital of the Ruhr-University in Bochum I was very honored to (together with my group) move ‘back home’. contact
In 2009 I successfully achieved the grade as a technical research assistant at the Berufskolleg Olsberg des Hochsauerlandkreises.
Since then I worked for the lab for Experimental and Molecular Psychiatry at the Ruhr- University Bochum, which focuses on mental health disorders like schizophrenia and depression. My main parts are organizing the lab, supporting all our members and helping students whenever it is possible. contact
How does the brain generate behaviour? This question has fascinated me already at school. Consequently, I studied Biology in Bochum and Bielefeld. During my diploma thesis, which was a classic embryological study dealing with the effects of teratogenic substances on early brain formation I became aware of the crucial impact of epigenetic factors onto brain development. I therefore decided to investigate the influence of sensory stimulation onto visual asymmetries in pigeons during my PhD thesis in Konstanz and Bochum. Left-right differences in neuronal structure and processing constitute a core principle of the functional brain organization in the animal kingdom and their emergence illustrates how genes and environment cooperate to generate efficient and environmentally adapted behaviour. I follow this line of research up today with the help of several DFG funded projects interrupted by work on adult neurogenesis in mice (Department of Molecular Neurobiochemistry, Bochum) and appointments as acting professor in Wuppertal, Hagen and Bochum. I habilitated 2007 in Cognitive Neuroscience at the Ruhr-University and achieved an appointment as extraordinate professor 2013. As a member of the Experimental and Molecular Psychiatry group, I will conduct a DFG funded project to understand how two (specialized) brain hemispheres communicate to enable adaptive decisions and behavioural control and how gene-environment interactions during ontogeny shape the underlying intra- and interhemispheric processes. Results may allow generating experimental approaches, which will help to unravel the neurobiological foundations of psychiatric disorders.
My main research topic is the development of immune-induced schizophrenia. I use an animal model and cell culture to investigate the effects of prenatal immune reactions on microglial activation and brain development.
I have always wondered who’s affecting whom – our mind our brain or vice versa? We know from different studies, that our thoughts can highly affect our mental state. But in some cases, like for several psychiatric disorders, it is still unclear how they begin. Is it biology, that changes first or is it our mind that creates those changes in the brain? To hopefully once answer those questions, I am interested in neurobiological and epigenetic changes when suffering from a psychiatric disorder. As a first approach, I use developmental animal models and methylation studies. I am especially interested in altered methylation as a key player in the development of stress-related psychiatric disorders by altering brain functioning. contact
In March 2017 I joined the working group for Experimental and Molecular Psychiatry as a cooperation partner from the Department of Cell Morphology and Molecular Neurobiology. Several studies revealed a correlation between infections in the second trimester of pregnancy and the later occurrence of schizophrenia in the offspring. In order to analyze the consequences of a prenatal infection for the development of the embryonic central nervous system, I am working with the Poly I:C mouse model. Here, I am using an indirect co-culture system consisting of hippocampal neurons and cortical astrocytes. For the analysis of synapse and perineuronal net (PNN) formation in vitro, I am utilizing methods like immunocytochemistry, confocal laser scanning microscopy and multielectrode array (MEA). The planned experiments may give new insights concerning the origin and neurobiology of schizophrenia and be helpful for the development of new therapies. contact
I am fascinated by how the interaction of multiple neurons and to some extent already proteins on a cellular level are brought to perfection to perform a simple task, like moving your arm. So it is even more stunning for me that a complicated process, like behavior, is just a combination of numerous small molecular procedures. These complex molecular mechanisms are unfortunately vulnerable. The guideline for these components is genes. In some cases, genetic factors play an important role in the pathogenesis of psychiatric disorders (e.g. bipolar disorder). The sensible equilibrium can be disturbed in these cases and lead to a certain behavior. These genetic variations and also the behavior can be mimicked in an animal model. This is important to reach a broad understanding of the underlying neurobiological changes in the brain. Therefore I use molecular biology and imaging methods (e.g. PET) to investigate for example the changes in gene expression which lead to psychiatric behavior, like depression. contact
I have always wondered how the brain works and directs the behaviors of the animals. From the first moment, I have learned that animals also have a preference to use one paw over the other one, just like humans, and this subject has fascinated me very much. Therefore, I have decided to work and improve myself on laterality in animals. After obtaining my bachelor’s degree in veterinary medicine, I started a Ph.D. program about the behavioral and epigenetic evaluation of the effect of prenatal stress on functional cerebral asymmetries (FCAs) in rats. To this end, I joined the working group for Experimental and Molecular Psychiatry as a visiting doctoral researcher from the Department of Genetics at Ankara University Faculty of Veterinary Medicine within the scope of the International Research Scholarship Program. Although functional brain asymmetries are known to exist in many animal species, the factors affecting this situation and how these factors affect it is a matter of debate. Therefore, I am interested in evaluating the effect of prenatal stress on FCA by behavioral tests in rats and to investigate the epigenetic mechanism of the selected genes in brain tissue. I believe that understanding the ontogenesis of the FCA formation process and the impact of stress on this process is crucial, especially for developmental biology, cognitive neuroscience, and animal welfare. contact
I have always been interested in addictive disorders since it affects the lives of so many people and those affected are often confronted with negative prejudices regarding their disorder. But alcohol dependency is actually a very widespread disorder in Germany and is often overlooked in the clinical everday life and is only detected when it has already caused physical harm. I was often wondering: Why do some people tend to alcohol dependency and some do not? In additon to environmental factors, also the genetic plays a huge role. Are there variances in the brain, that predispose to alcohol dependency or does alcohol lead to specific changes in the brain? I want to pursue those questions by examinating brains of alcohol addicted rodents. contact
What exactly is the impact of mental illness on the human body? How does depression affect our physical health? Psyche and body are closely connected, but how? During my fourth year of medical school, this topic has inspired me, especially the effect of stress on the heart. This issue concerns all of us. The cardiology, as well as the possible associations of cardiac diseases, have always been appealing to me. Heart diseases for example like cardiac failure, coronary heart diseases or heart attacks are rarely sporadic. Among other clear causes like genetic factors or risk factors such as obesity or hypertension, the psyche plays a very important role. Nowadays, this matter affects almost everyone, as stress, as well as depression, has become a big part of many people and their lives. So, what are the possible serious consequences for the heart?
Therefore my main research topic is the impact of stress in the form of maternal separation and social isolation on the heart.
Since the beginning of my medical studies, I was always fascinated by how certain critical life events can affect brain structures and behavior. Neurobiological and anatomical approaches with rodents have drastically increased diagnostic and therapeutic strategies in psychiatry and delivered invaluable results that helped us to better tackle mental health issues affecting millions around the globe. One of these critical life events is “Maternal separation” that has long-lasting effects on the development of the nervous system, emotions, and cognition- not only for offspring but also for the mother. Research mainly focused on consequences for the pups but which changes affect the maternal side needs further investigation. Therefore, I am focusing on neuronal, biological and behavioral changes in rat mothers after maternal separation to better understand interactions that are affected by this stress.
I have always wondered how our thoughts and memories form and how we could examine them. The possibility of exploring the material correlate with our mind has always fascinated me. Whilst studying medicine clarified many of my questions, the answers led to yet another issue concerning the mind: what happens when something goes wrong with our thoughts? And is it possible to somehow examine this? From this point on, it was only a matter of time until I would join the Freundlab to investigate these questions.
An important tool for my project is the rodent model of maternal separation. I especially focus on neuroinflammation and neuronal alterations in maternally separated rats in brain structures associated with depression, such as the hippocampus or the amygdala during development.