Determinants and modulators of cortical activity, and neuroplasticity in the human brain

The aim of this project is to develop and optimize approaches for the controlled induction of neuromodulation via brain stimulation, and to improve our understanding of the physiological foundation of neuromodulation-induced alterations.

Optimization of plasticity induction (Nitsche, Kuo, Agboada, Mosayebi)

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive brain stimulation tool suited to induce alterations of brain activity and excitability as well as neuroplasticity via polarizing effects on neuronal membranes. By these basic effects, this stimulation technique has been shown to be able to modify cognition and behaviour in healthy humans, as well as clinical symptoms in patient populations. The physiological effects of tDCS have however been shown to be variable to a certain extent, and optimized stimulation protocols await yet to be identified. In this project, we will systematically evaluate stimulation parameters to identify optimal protocols (BMBF project GCBS, MERCUR).

Mechanisms of neuroplasticity (Nitsche, Kuo, Agboada, Mosayebi)

With regard to mechanisms of human brain plasticity, relevant advances have been made in the last years, but knowledge is far from being complete. In the last years, we have focused on the impact of pharmacologically defined neuromodulatory mechanisms on regional plasticity in humans. We have demonstrated dosage-dependent, and receptor subtype-dependent effects. We now explore further mechanisms of the effects of these agents on plasticity with regard to calcium-dependency in larger detail, and explore the impact of noradrenergic activation on neuroplasticity in humans. Beyond improving our basic understanding of the mechanisms of cognition- and behaviour-related physiological processes, the results of these studies will have application relevance, because e.g. concentration of neuromodulatory transmitters depends on motivation, distress, circadian mechanisms, and other factors. The results of these studies will help us to understand how these factors translate into performance differences.

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