Diversity research in the brain

Christian Mayer receives ERC Starting Grant to investigate the origin of interneuron variety

July 27, 2018

Cortical interneurons are a broad class of inhibitory nerve cells in the brain that form local circuits with nearby neurons. By doing so, they stabilize neural circuits that underlie cognitive and higher order brain functions. They are also likely to play an important role in neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Christian Mayer and his team at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology aim to investigate how different types of interneurons arise during an organisms’ development. A research project, which is now supported by the European Research Council (ERC) through a 1.5 Million Euro Starting Grant over the next five years.

A growing body of evidence suggests that perturbation of interneuron development can result in a variety of complex neuropsychiatric disorders, including autism, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Thus, elucidating how interneurons develop and integrate into canonical brain circuits is crucial for understanding the brain in both health and disease. One promising approach to unravelling the complexity of the differentiated brain is to understand how diverse cell types are created during development. Deciphering the rules that govern how cortical interneuron subtypes acquire their specific intrinsic features and the ability to innervate the appropriate postsynaptic partners and cellular compartments is essential for understanding functional aspects of adult brain organization.

Christian Mayer and his team at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology investigate the development of interneurons and the origin of their incredible diversity. Using a new barcoding strategy, the neurobiologists now aim to trace the fate and migration of individual cells from their site of origin to their destination. In addition, they will investigate the genetic mechanisms that enable cell intrinsic programs to be shaped by environmental activity-dependent processes during the critical window of development. The ERC Starting Grant that was now awarded will thus help to gain a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying the development of these important neurons.

Christian Mayer studied biology at the University of Konstanz und gained his PhD at the Center for Molecular Neurobiology in Hamburg. As a postdoc, he worked at the New York University, the New York Genome Center and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in the USA. He came to the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in 2018, where he heads the Max Planck Research Group "Neurogenomics". Here, he and his team investigate how the different types of interneurons arise during brain development.

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 3,170 applications for a Starting Grant during the. Almost 13% of these applications were successful. The budget of 603 Million Euro is shared out between 403 applications from 23 nations. In this round, 73 German researchers were awarded a Starting Grant.

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