NERF Group Leader Sebastian Haesler receives a Career Development Award of the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP). The HFSP supports innovative and interdisciplinary basic research focused on the complex mechanisms of living organisms. With the Career Development Award, the HFSP encourages scientific independence of young researchers and helps them to establish their own laboratory.
In the funded project, the NERF Group Leader will establish a new research line on how the brain detects and processes novel stimuli. Humans and animals respond to novel stimuli with distinct orienting and exploratory behaviors. Novelty-mediated orienting responses have been used extensively in developmental psychology as a non-verbal measure for object recognition in infants. Moreover, disturbances in novelty processing have been linked to human pathological conditions including schizophrenia and autism as well as human personality traits associated with maladaptive behaviors such as addiction. Together, these findings highlight the importance of novelty processing for human cognitive function. Although previous studies have identified key brain areas involved in novelty processing, the neural mechanisms for how novel stimuli are detected and learned remain unresolved. Furthermore, a mechanistic description of how behavioral responses are initiated is currently lacking. The research project will investigate these questions using a combination of multielectrode recording and optogenetic techniques in awake, behaving mice. The three year project will start in June 2013 and is funded with 300.000 US Dollar.