Dynamics of sensory systems

Kretzberg & Verhey (coordinating), Duifhuis, Feudel, Kollmeier, Mellert, Mouritsen, van Dijk, van Netten, Weiler

Sensory systems of all organisms have to deal with constantly changing stimulus situations. On the one hand, dynamic stimuli confront the nervous system with the problem to adapt to those external changes. For all sensory modalities, adaptation tunes the neuronal sensitivity to the current stimulus. Adaptation enables for example the visual system of most vertebrates to maintain its functional capacity over a light intensity range of ten or more logarithmic units. On the other hand, a change in the stimulus situation, particularly a sudden stimulus onset like a pinprick to the skin, can be an important environmental cue that should lead to heightened attention and behavioral reaction. Moreover, for many stimuli the most important feature is the stimulus dynamics, a prominent example being speech, a stimulus that is characterized by continuous changes in signal amplitude and spectrum. Thus, on the one hand the system has to include mechanisms that are sensitive to stimulus changes. On the other hand, for both, the perception of external stimulus dynamics as well as for adaptation, properties of neurons and neuronal networks are tuned all the time by internal dynamical changes.

The goal of the part "Dynamics of sensory systems" of the InterGK is to investigate the mechanisms responsible for the sensitivity to external dynamics and the internal dynamics of sensory systems in response to dynamically changing external stimuli. Internal dynamics will be considered on the levels of individual neurons, neuronal networks and entire organisms. We will analyze and compare the sensory modalities vision, hearing, mechanoperception and magnetoperception with a broad spectrum of experimental methods, covering psychophysical, electrophysiological, neuroanatomical and molecular techniques and compare the results to model simulations and theoretical predictions. Major focal points of planned dissertation projects will be:

  • Peripheral adaptation and dynamics
  • Network dynamics and sensory coding
  • Psychophysics of external stimulus dynamics
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