SFB Extinction Learning enters second funding phase with IfADo

The German Research Foundation approved the second funding phase for SFB 1280 „Extinction Learning“, which involves researchers from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB), the University of Duisburg-Essen, the Philipps-Universität Marburg and the Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors (IfADo).

The brain forgets nothing

SFB 1280 „Extinction Learning“ has set itself ambitious goals for the second funding period: „In our research, we want to comprehensively understand the mechanisms of extinction learning, from genes to the brain to behaviour,“ explains spokesperson Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Onur Güntürkün, holder of the Chair of Biopsychology at the RUB. „In doing so, we want to use or develop new methods that make it possible to track what happens in the brain during learning from the individual cell to the entire system, manipulate it experimentally and simulate it with computational models.“ Based on these findings, the team hopes to develop new therapeutic options for patients suffering from anxiety disorders or chronic pain.

In the first four years of funding, the researchers were able to achieve more than they had initially expected in several areas. For example, they were able to prove their thesis that what is learned is often not erased from the brain; that is, we forget much less than we think. Instead, a second memory is formed that inhibits the memories of the first. But not only the event itself, but also the situation in which this event took place is co-learned. When this context suddenly reappears, the inhibition falls away and we suddenly remember a fact that we thought we had forgotten. „That’s why it’s helpful for anxiety patients, for example, if there is a context in therapy that is similar to the one in which the anxiety regularly occurs,“ says Onur Güntürkün.

The SFB has expanded and changed the previous map of where extinction learning takes place in the brain. In particular, the researchers have redefined which tasks are performed by the cerebellum, which was previously rather ignored. These successes result from the complementary expertise of a research programme in which experts from psychology, neurology, biology and theoretical neuroscience synergistically contribute their respective specialist knowledge. „With this formula for success, we can now conduct four more years of research to more deeply decipher the mechanisms of extinction learning and use these findings for clinical interventions,“ Güntürkün is pleased to say.

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