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GRK II: PhD Students (2020-2023)

B1: Neuron-glia interaction in Major Depressive Disorder

Eugenia Vivi

Neuron-glia interaction in Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) “Understanding the plasticity of glia-neuron interactions in emotional dysfunction”

I graduated in the Pharmacy Master’s degree at the University of Modena and Reggio-Emilia, Italy. During my undergraduate studies, I had the great opportunity to work on my Master’s thesis research in an interdisciplinary project at the intersection of neuroscience and osteoscience at the University of Ulm, Germany. It was an enriching opportunity, which cemented my desire to pursue a future career in research. Accordingly, I would like to engage my interest in exploring the field of neurological disorders focusing on the discovery of new therapeutic targets.

As part of the GRK emotion program, my PhD research project is aiming at unravelling the astrocyte role in the onset of neuropsychiatric disorders, particularly in respect to major depressive disorder (MDD). In this framework, we are interested in deciphering how dysfunctional changes in astrocytes might influence the glia-neuron interactions and vice versa. Understanding the glia-neuron interaction, and in what way astrocytes affect synapses, might help to optimize current approaches or to develop alternative therapies for the treatment of socio-emotional disorders.

B2: Brain Neuropeptides & Bond Disruptions

Luisa Demarchi

The neurobiology behind bond disruptions: When a mother loses her child

I achieved my B.Sc. degree in Biology from the University of Turin (Italy). I continued my master studies in Medical Biotechnologies at the same University and my ongoing interest in the field of neurobiology led me to the composition of my master’s thesis “A study of the effects of early maternal environment and different genetic and pharmacological manipulations on behavior and brain expression of perineuronal nets in adult mice” at the Neuroscience Institute of the Cavalieri Ottolenghi Foundation (Orbassano-Turin).

In the GRK, the aim of my project is the investigation of the behavioral and neural mechanisms in the mother's brain following separation from the pups. The project will continue in a translational animal model, i.e. monogamous and biparental prairie vole. The ultimate goal is the understanding of the neurobiological basis underlying the emotional changes resulting from losing the young or the partner and the better understanding of the evolutionary and neurobiological origin for the capacity to form social bonds.

B3: Glial involvement in oxytocin-regulated socio-emotional behaviours

Laura Boi

After my undergraduate studies in Industrial Biotechnology at the University of Cagliari, I graduated with a Master's degree in Neuropsychobiology at the same university. During my master internship I had the chance to study neuroendocrinology in the laboratory of Alessandra Concas, which led me to the composition of my master thesis focused on the effect of hormonal contraceptives on the HPA axis. My ongoing interest in the field of neuroendocrinology led me to follow a traineeship post-laurea in the laboratory of Elena Choleris at the University of Guelph, which marked my desire to explore the role of oxytocin and its implications on adult emotional and social behaviour.

My PhD project within the GRK gives me the great opportunity to investigate the involvement of astrocytes in social fear conditioning. My research aims to a) reveal how a traumatic social event affects astrocytes of various brain regions associated with socio-emotional behaviour on a molecular and cellular level and b) manipulate astrocytes cell type-specifically (using viral-vector based knockdown of targets involved in astrocytic oxytocin receptor signaling and astrocyte-specific DREADD) to examine their contribution to the acquisition, as well as extinction of social fear.

B4: Spir/formin complex in emotional fear learning

Anna Huber

Function of the Spir/formin actin nucleator complex in emotional fear learning

I graduated with a Master’s degree in Molecular Medicine at the University of Regensburg. During my studies, I was early attracted by basic research. Particularly neurobiological processes and the function of the brain have aroused my interest. The nervous system has a very high energy demand and is strictly dependent on the homeostasis of mitochondria, which synthesise most of the neuronal ATP energy source. In my master thesis, I investigated the regulation of mitochondrial motility by actin/myosin force generation. This master thesis is now one of the cornerstones for my PhD project.

As a graduate student, I will focus on two main topics. First of all, I will examine whether the mitochondrial SPIRE1 actin nucleator regulates the localization of mitochondria in neurons. Furthermore, I will perform mouse phenotyping experiments to reveal if the loss of mitochondrial SPIRE1 function contributes to the increased fear of SPIRE1-mutant mice.


Atefeh Akbari

My undergraduate study was in biology at the University of Mazandaran, Iran. After that, as I was enthusiastic about the neurobiology field, I entered M. Sc. in Animal physiology at the same university. My ongoing interest in the field of neurobiology led me to the composition of my master’s thesis with the title “Interaction between Morphinergic and GABAergic systems in Basolateral Amygdala nucleus on Anxiety and arousal Memory based on Test-Retest paradigm”. After completing my master program, I joined a research lab at Babol University of Medical Sciences (BUMS) as a research assistant and there I participated in several projects, advancing my scientific career.

B6: Brain Representations of Emotional States in Humans

Philipp Seidl

In 2017 I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Medical Computer Sciences from the Ostbayerische Technische Hochschule in Regensburg, Germany. During the time working on my Bachelor’s thesis I was introduced to the field of neuroimaging, which fueled my interest in neuroscience, leading me to apply to the “Experimental and Clinical Neurosciences” Master’s program at the University of Regensburg. Through this Master’s, I supplemented my technical background with knowledge of the biological processes of the brain at which points I appreciated how useful technical skills can be in many branches of neuroscience.

During my studies, I worked with depressive patients and developed an interest in neuropsychiatry: specifically, how the brain of an unhealthy person may act at rest as compared to the brains of healthy people. With respect to this, part of my Master’s thesis sought to investigate whether transcranial magnetic stimulation changes the dynamics of resting brain activity in healthy people.

During 2019 I wanted to extend my scientific training and gain international experience, so I applied to work at the ProactionLab at the University of Coimbra in Portugal, which focuses on how the brain represent objects.

When the GRK opened its call for applications, I was thrilled to see a project that incorporated both machine learning and neuroimaging: two of my scientific passions. The focus of my studies during the GRK is to identify emotional states from brain activity measured with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in order to develop brain-based biomarkers of emotions. Combining clinical data, neuroimaging, and machine learning algorithms may facilitate the identification of subtypes of certain disorders (e.g., depression), thereby improving diagnostics and increasing the effectiveness of treatment.

B7: Neurocircuitry of social fear extinction

Theresa Süß

Involvement of septal endocannabinoid and oxytocin signaling during extinction of social fear

I studied biology at the University of Regensburg. During the master thesis at the department of behavioral and molecular neurobiology, I have already dealt with the modulatory role of systemic and septal endocannabinoid signaling on social fear extinction. The data that I generated during my master thesis also serves as the basis for my GRK project.

The lateral septum (LS) is known as a converging point for cognitive and affective information, which relays to downstream regions to elicit the behavioral output in respect to varied environmental stimuli. As such, the LS is well known to be crucially involved in various aspects of social behavior. The neuropeptide oxytocin (OXT) as well as the endocannabinoid system (eCB) are important modulators of traumatic memories and social behaviors. This GRK project aims to clarify the neuroanatomical and chemical nature of septal neurons. After characterizing the neuronal circuitry within the LS, I want to assess whether modulation of the OXT- and eCB- system within the LS alters social fear extinction.

B8: TSPO in MDD patients under ECT

Nadia Falhani

Functional Role of Translocator Protein 18 kDa (TSPO) in depressive patients under treatment with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

I achieved my Master’s degree in Pharmacy at the University of Milan, Italy. During my undergraduate studies, the neuroscience field strongly aroused my curiosity. I was particularly intrigued by learning more about psychiatric diseases. After completing my Master's program, I attended a six months internship at the Faculty of Biology & Preclinical Medicine at the University of Regensburg, Germany.
Considering my pharmaceutical background combined with my neurobiology knowledge, I was particularly interested in GRK project 8. My studies will be focused on the functional role of Translocator Protein 18 kDa (TSPO) in depressed patients being treated with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). TSPO is an outer mitochondrial membrane protein, which is implicated in various functions, such as cholesterol transport and steroid hormone biosynthesis. Dysregulations of such mitochondrial functions are involved in the pathophysiology of major depressive disorder (MDD). As a result, TSPO becomes an interesting diagnostic and therapeutic target in the nervous system. Furthermore, fMRI will be performed to investigate functional brain connectivity and dynamics, specifically during the process of ECT. To sum up, the current project will lead to translational advantages in the long-term, with an eye to reaching a more effective and targeted therapy.

B9: Acute and longterm consequences of social stress in adolescent mice

Leopold Kinzel

I performed my undergraduate studies in Biology at the University of Regensburg. Here I got in contact with neurobiology, which caught my curiosity. I further pursued this curiosity during my Master studies in the international Master Program ‘Experimental & Clinical Neurosciences’ (ECN) at the University of Regensburg, where I started to focus on socio-emotional disorders. In addition to the scientific training, the ECN program further intensified my knowledge by clinical aspects of neurosciences leading to my current interest in pathologic socio-emotional behavior.

Within the GRK program, I aim to investigate social trauma during adolescence as a critical period of enhanced vulnerability towards impaired adult socio-emotional behavior. Main study subjects will be socio-emotional behaviors as well as their respective cellular and molecular parameters in rodents. I will do so with a special focus on brain neuropeptides such as oxytocin (OXT), arginine-vasopressin, and corticotropin releasing factor. I will further manipulate the activity of the brain OXT system to study its potential to attenuate the adverse consequences of social trauma in adolescence.

B10: Molecular pathomechanisms of major depressive disorder

Iseline Cardon

Molecular Pathomechanisms of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) – Investigation of molecular and cellular function in a human cellular model of major depression

I graduated from a two-year university diploma in technology specializing in Biological Engineering in the University of Montpellier (France). With an additional year in Ireland at the Institute of Technology Carlow, I graduated with a Bachelor degree in Biosciences. Following this, I continued with a Master of Neuroscience of the university of Marseille (France) specializing in cellular and molecular neuroscience. During my Master thesis I used human induced-pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) to model Alzheimer’s disease and it sparked my interest for innovative disease modeling using human iPSCs.

In the GRK program, my project aims to investigate the molecular pathomechanisms of major depressive disorder (MDD). To this end, I will study the physiology of MDD patients’ cells and matched controls at different stages of neural differentiation (iPSCs, neural progenitor, neurons). A special focus will be given to the bioenergetic balance and the mitochondrial function but the aetiology of MDD will also be analyzed through electrophysiological characterization of induced neurons and pharmacological assays.