Projects of our Students

Projects of our Students

Find some examples of what IMPRS-students are working on

Stoyo Karamihalev and Elena Brivio have been trying to understand how individuals synchronize their behavior in social situations and how this synchrony emerges and is maintained by the brain. They have been using a semi-naturalistic housing setup, known as the “Social Box”, combined with automated continuous video tracking of groups of mice over multiple days to assess their individual and social behavior. With that information at hand, they are exploring the brain regions and circuits that may play a role in synchrony, as well how sex differences contribute to behavioral synchrony.


Unsupervised learning for high-dimensional longitudinal data

This project is part of a Marie Curie Innovative Training Network called "Machine Learning Frontiers in Precision Medicine", in which 13 nodes across Europe interact while working on different aspects of the same problem. In particular, we aim to explore and develop methods for unsupervised learning on genetics and high-dimensional longitudinal data coming from different sources, such as DNA methylation, fMRI studies and even motion tracking of patients and disease-related experimental animals. While given the nature of our institution the original plan sticks to psychiatry-related data, the methods and algorithms to be developed are immediately applicable in other disease areas and data domains. As the dimensionality of the data we use tends to be ultra-high, we are exploring pipelines involving state-of-the-art dimensionality reduction techniques before feeding the data to clustering algorithms. Out of this project, we intend to produce not only knowledge of robust multivariate time-series clustering but also provide user-friendly packages for the application of our methods."


The uncharted territory of epitranscriptomics – mRNA modifications in psychiatric disorders

Stress can affect gene expression through epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA-methylation. New research suggests a similar regulation at the level of messenger molecules (mRNA) which are responsible for the transmission of genetic information. The most common mRNA modification N6-methyladenosine (m6A) is regulated by stress in the brain and shows a changed signature in the blood of patients suffering from depression. Future research investigating the involvement of m6A in the stress response can provide a better understanding of the origin of stress-related psychiatric disorders.


Sex differences in stress response explored with single cell transcriptomics

Mental health disorders are among the most common debilitating conditions worldwide. Currently, 322 million people worldwide are suffering from depression, a mental disorder that has been shown to be tightly connected to stress. There is still a lot unknown about how depression develops and affects our brain and how stress interacts with depression and other risk factors. I am particularly interested in one specific aspect of this condition: why are two third of these patients women and how does stress affect a person based on their sex? To try answering these questions, our lab uses mouse models of acute and chronic stress to explore behavioral changes and molecular alterations due to stress in the brain. Moreover, we combine advanced automatic behavioral tracking and single cell transcriptomics to achieve high resolution. My PhD project tries to describe how the stress response in the brain changes according to sex and previous stress experiences and social environment. To do so, we directly compare male and female mice and we study the cell-type-specific transcriptome of the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus - the coordinator of the stress response - and the behavioural response to stress in socially housed mice. Our contribution to the new movement of introducing sex as a biological variable in psychiatric and stress research will increase our understanding of the sex-dependent clinical manifestation of depression and will provide significant insights for the development of more effective therapeutic sex-oriented tools for its treatment.

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