Neuronal circuits of fear

Nadine Gogolla receives an ERC Starting Grant for the investigation of the insular cortex

September 06, 2017

Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent psychiatric diseases. However, how fear and anxiety arise in the brain and how they mediate emotion-related behaviors, remains largely unknown. Scientists assume that the brain's insular cortex bears a central role in these processes. A role, Nadine Gogolla and her team at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology aim to disentangle. The European Research Council (ERC) now awarded a 1.5 Million Euro Starting Grant to Nadine Gogolla to advance this research project within the next five years.

Fear and anxiety are adaptive responses to dangerous situations and aim to prevent harm. Yet, if these emotions become excessive, they may lead to anxiety disorders. To understand natural and maladaptive fear- and anxiety-related behaviors, scientists need to understand the underlying neuronal circuits. Growing evidence shows that different brain areas contribute to a neuronal network orchestrating emotions and feelings into complex behavioral decisions. The insular cortex, an area of the cerebral cortex folded deep inside each hemisphere, seems to play a central role in this network. Although the insular cortex is believed to be essential for emotion regulation, empathy and social behavior, very little is known about its neural circuits and how it contributes to these functions.

Nadine Gogolla and her team aim to unravel the organization and function of the insular cortex. Using the mouse as a model organism, the researchers will try to map the neuronal circuits of the insular cortex, and investigate how they process fear and anxiety and influence emotional behavior. Previous research has shown that the insular cortex of mice and humans shows similar activity during fear, anxiety and aversive learning. Using state-of-the-art neurobiological techniques in combination with a variety of classical and newly developed behavioral experiments, the researchers aim to gain a comprehensive understanding of the insular cortex role in influencing emotional behavior. The newly awarded ERC Starting Grant will greatly help them to achieve this goal. The results of this research project will provide a better understanding of the insular cortex structure and functions. In addition, they are likely to yield important novel insights with great relevance for a better understanding of human anxiety disorders.

The awardee

Nadine Gogolla studied Human Biology at the Philips University of Marburg. She worked on her PhD thesis at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel, Switzerland and received her PhD in Neurobiology from the University of Basel. Subsequently, she worked at Harvard University in Cambridge, USA. As of January 2014, Nadine Gogolla heads the Max Planck Research Group Circuits for Emotion at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology. Several grants and awards have acknowledged the value of her work already.

The European Research Council(ERC)

The Starting Grants of the European Research Council seek to give talented scientists at an early stage in their careers the freedom to pursue their most creative ideas. During the past call period, the ERC received 3,085 applications for a Starting Grant during the. Overall, 13% of these applications were successful. The budget of 605 Million Euro is shared out between 405 applications from 23 nations. In Germany, 67 applicants were awarded a Starting Grant.

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