ProjectCortical network activity in the developing human brain

Basic data

Cortical network activity in the developing human brain
01/08/2020 to 31/07/2022
Abstract / short description:
The human brain is largely built before birth when most of its major building blocks, the neurons, are produced.
These neurons already start to form connections with each other, thereby forming the circuits that underlie
brain function. Recordings from brains of prematurely born babies show that complex patterns of brain activity
already exist at these early stages of brain development. During this critical time period in development, babies
are exposed to a multitude of environmental conditions that may affect brain development. For example, if the
expecting mother uses drugs, such as opioids, or smokes cigarettes, brain growth may be slowed. Moreover, if
the mother experiences stress, her stress hormones may also change the way neurons in the baby’s brain are
generated and communicate with each other. Several research studies have shown that exposure to such
unfavorable conditions before birth may increase the risk that children will develop disorders such as anxiety or
autism later in life. In this project, I will analyze how neurons assemble themselves into circuits and explore
mechanisms neurons use to communicate with each other before birth. I will use high-resolution microscopy
techniques to detect activity with a resolution that will allow me to analyze how individual neurons
communicate in the timescale of seconds. I will then selectively interfere with specific molecular signaling
pathways to test their role in communication between neurons at this critical stage. This work will provide a
foundation to understand how important developmental events may go awry. In the next step, I aim to study
how neuronal communication is affected when neurons are exposed to unfavorable conditions, such as stress.
By gaining a better understanding of the communication mechanisms involved in normal brain development
and how these are disrupted by harmful influences from the environment, I aim to discover how the
environment may predispose children to a range of mental illnesses including autism and schizophrenia. Such
knowledge will help to better manage pregnancies to limit exposure to risks and also to devise treatments for
prematurely born babies that will improve the development of appropriate brain activity.

Involved staff


University Department of Neurology
Hospitals and clinical institutes, Faculty of Medicine

Local organizational units

Department of Neurology and Epileptology
University Department of Neurology
Hospitals and clinical institutes, Faculty of Medicine



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