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Pan European Networks: Science & Technology




Professor Dr Ileana Hanganu-Opatz

Co-ordinator of the Priority Program 1665

Developmental Neurophysiology

University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf

Hamburg, Germany

and modelling allow the functional evaluation of mechanistic

hypotheses and back up the links to behaviour. Practically, the

working strategy of each project funded by the DFG within the

Priority Program involves ‘troika collaborations’. They include

‘experimenters’, i.e. groups resolving or manipulating neuronal

activity, ‘toolmakers’, i.e. groups developing and validating the

recording and manipulation methods, and ‘analysts’, i.e. groups

analysing network dynamics, building data-constrained models

or dissecting the functional readout. This general working

strategy reinforces tight and coherent interactions by which

well-established groups all over Germany form a truly interdisciplinary

collaborative network.


The programme is funded by the DFG with a total budget of €13m

for a period of six years with a second call for projects after the

first three years. The first funding period (2013-2016) brought

together 12 troikas and 42 research groups from 26 German

universities and research centres. Their collaborative work led to

almost 70 papers published in high-ranking journals. Important

milestones have been reached including: 1) the engineering of

new (micro)electrodes and optoelectrodes for high-resolution

recordings and manipulation of neuronal networks; 2) the

development of novel light-sensitive proteins for silencing

neuronal activity; 3) the development of new technologies for

transcranial stimulation; 4) the dissection of cortico-cortical and

cortico-subcortical circuits; 5) the elucidation of wiring

mechanisms and function of developing circuits; 6) the

development of inter-lab workflows for increased reproducibility of

findings; and 7) the elaboration of novel data-constrained models

of network function. These achievements would not have been

possible without an active exchange between troikas during

meetings and workshops.

During the first funding period the focus of co-ordinated activities

was laid on the development of tools and analytical strategies. For

this, three workshops on the topics of ‘optogenetics’, ‘analysis and

management of electrophysiological activity data’ and ‘analysis

and modulation of brain networks’ have been organised in

Bochum, Jülich and Hamburg respectively. Besides enabling intra

and inter-troika collaborations they contributed to the

development of professional skills of doctoral and postdoctoral

researchers funded by the consortium.


From the beginning, the Priority Program was designed as a

training centre for young researchers. During the first funding

period 32 PhD students had been funded. Special attention was

paid to the networking and professional development of doctoral

and postdoctoral researchers. Each meeting of the consortium

included an internal student meeting, during which their needs

and expectations from the programme had been documented.

The result of these fruitful discussions was a tailored support that

included intense project-related training and measures for career

development. Additionally, the programme supports female

researchers and families with children by diverse measures

(financial support for childcare, ‘mother-child’ offices, coaching,

funding of female student assistants).

During the second funding period, which will be launched during

autumn 2016, Priority Program 1665 aims to extend these

initiatives and strengthen the interdisciplinarity of the consortium.

For this, a particular focus will be on the development of common

research strategies with complementary national and

international consortia. On the one hand, the Priority Program

1926 entitled ‘Next Generation Optogenetics: Tool Development

and Application’ has been launched this year and aims to design

highly specific chemical photoswitches, implementing them in

cells and animals and developing optogenetic therapies. The tight

collaboration between the two Priority Programs will enable an

efficient knowledge transfer, opening new perspectives for the

applicability of light-sensitive proteins.

On the other hand, the International Program for the Advancement

of Neurotechnology (IPAN)

( ha

s been

funded by the US research programme PIRE since 2015 under

the co-ordination of Euisik Yoon (University of Michigan). It aims to

develop and deliver hardware and software systems that

fundamentally simplify the ability of a neuroscientist to: 1) identify

and classify a recorded neuron; 2) reconstruct a local neural

circuit; and 3) deliver biomimetic or synthetic inputs in a

cell-specific targeted manner. The co-ordinator of the Priority

Program 1665, Ileana Hanganu-Opatz, who is an IPAN

international partner, aims to foster the collaborations between

the German and US consortia through a co-ordinated exchange of

students and postdoctoral fellows.

The Priority Program 1665 has already pioneered a new direction

of highly interdisciplinary research in Germany. On a medium to

long-term scale, the programme: 1) will enable the development of

innovative technologies in systems for neuroscience, for which

young scientists will receive solid training; 2) will decipher the

mechanisms by which the activation of single neurons or groups of

neurons cause a specific behaviour; and 3) will set the course for

understanding the contribution of neuronal networks to impaired

behaviour in neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders.