Prof. Dr. Ruben Portugues

TUM School of Medicine and Health

Main Focus

In our group, we investigate how the brain generates and modulates behavior. We are particularly interested in how the brain can encode information about complex interactions between the animal and the environment, use these to select actions, and calibrate them based on sensory feedback. We mainly use larval zebrafish as our vertebrate model organism of choice.

An example may relate to internal models of motor control. If an animal wants to move a limb, what is the sequence of action potentials that will generate the desired movement? These models are thought to be encoded in the synaptic connectivity of circuits that, although they include the cerebellum, are widely distributed throughout the vertebrate brain.

Another way of encoding information is through persistent activity (working memory). We have recently identified a hindbrain network that encodes the direction in which larval zebrafish are heading within their environment. How does this network do this? To what extent does it use sensory information versus keeping track of how much the fish has actually turned? How are the neurons in this circuit connected to support this representation? These are all questions that we are currently investigating.

Our model organism allows us an unbiased approach: we can use wholebrain functional imaging as a functional screen of activity, and study the problem all the way from networks that span the whole brain, to the synaptic connectivity between individual neurons. We use calcium imaging, behavior, modeling, optogenetics and electrophysiology to address these questions and often need to attempt to make sense of large datasets.

Offering PhD positions in 2024: Maybe.

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