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Biopsychology Research Colloquium

Biopsychology Research Colloquium: 28.05.2018, 1 - 3 pm, GAFO 05/425
Millie Johnston (University of Otago, New Zealand): The role of the pigeon nidopallium caudolaterale in working memory and serialorder behaviour


Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Fakultät für Psychologie
AE Biopsychologie
GAFO 05/618
D-44780 Bochum

Phone: +49 234 - 32 28213
Fax: +49 234 - 32 14377


News & Views

Smarter brains run on sparsely connected neurons

Individuals differ with regard to their cognitive abilities. For more than a century, scientists have been occupied with the question whether such differences in intelligence are associated with differences in the biological properties of the brain. Evidence from modern neuroscience shows that individuals with bigger brains tend to perform better on intelligence tests compared to individuals with smaller brains. However, research also indicates that the brains of intelligent individuals, despite having a comparably larger number of neurons, exhibit less neuronal activity while working on an intelligence test compared to brains of less intelligent individuals. So far, the cortical microstructure underlying these seemingly contradictive findings remained unknown. Here, a group of researchers from the Biopsychology Department collaborated with scientists from Bochum, Berlin and Albuquerque. They administered a matrix-reasoning test to measure intelligence and utilized a special form of in vivo magnetic resonance imaging to assess the amount of dendritic tissue in the cortex. In doing so, it could be shown for the first time that intelligence is inversely related to the number of dendrites connecting cortical neurons. The respective results could be confirmed by a large independent data set from the Human Connectome Project. According to these findings, intelligent brains are characterized by a slim but efficient circuitry between its cortical neurons, enabling high cognitive performance with neuronal activity remaining as low as possible.


Genç, E., Fraenz, C., Schlüter, C., Friedrich, P., Hossiep, R., Voelkle, M. C., Ling, J. M., Güntürkün, O., Jung, R. E. (2018). Diffusion markers of dendritic density and arborization in gray matter predict differences in intelligence. Nature Communications, 9(1), 1905.


News & Views

Functional mri in the nile crocodile

The phylogenetic position of crocodilians in relation to birds and mammals make them an interesting animal model to investigate the evolution of sensory systems in vertebrates. An appropriate, non-invasive method that can be utilized in such studies is fMRI. An international group of researchers from the Biopsychology Department and the School of Anatomical Science at the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa) now employed fMRI, never previously tested in poikilotherms, to investigate crocodilian telencephalic sensory processing. Juvenile Crocodylus niloticus were placed in a 7T MRI scanner and BOLD signal changes were recorded during the presentation of visual (flickering light at 2-8 Hz) and auditory (simple: chords centered around 1000 or 3000 Hz, and complex: classic music) stimuli. Our findings confirm that the majority of activated regions to both visual and auditory stimuli parallel what has been described for mammalian and avian sensory pathways, indicating conserved sensory processing principles among amniotes. The application of fMRI to ectothermic vertebrates provides an avenue for the application of this method to future functionally related brain research in a broader spectrum of vertebrate species.


Behroozi, M., Billings, B. K., Helluy, X., Manger, P. R., Güntürkün, O., & Ströckens, F. (2018). Functional MRI in the Nile crocodile: a new avenue for evolutionary neurobiology. Proc. R. Soc. B, 285(1877), 20180178.


News & Views

DNA methylation in candidate genes for handedness predicts handedness direction

For some decades, single gene explanations have been the most popular models for the ontogenesis of handedness. However, molecular genetic studies revealed only few specific genes exerting small influences on the phenotype. Moreover, non-genetic factors like birth complications and maternal health problems during pregnancy have often been associated with an increased probability of left-handed offspring. Recent research indicates that asymmetric DNA methylation and gene expression in the human fetal CNS contribute to the development of hemispheric asymmetries. Here, a group of researchers from the Biopsychology and the Genetic Psychology Department analyzed DNA methylation in promoter regions of candidate genes for handedness in adult left- and right-handers to investigate whether epigenetic biomarkers of handedness can be identified in non-neuronal tissue. We found that DNA methylation patterns in genes asymmetrically expressed in the fetal CNS predicted handedness direction. Moreover, birth stress was correlated with DNA methylation in NEUROD6, a gene that is asymmetrically expressed in fetal brains. We propose that an integration of genes and environment is essential to fully comprehend the ontogenesis of handedness.


Schmitz J, Kumsta R, Moser D, Güntürkün O, Ocklenburg S. DNA methylation in candidate genes for handedness predicts handedness direction. Laterality. 2018 23: 441-461.


News & Views

A handedness gene affects cognitive control

Cognitive control processes play an essential role not only in controlling actions but also in guiding attentional selection processes. In this study, a team of reseachers from Bochum, Bergen and Dresden investigated whether neurobiological mechanisms that affect functional cerebral asymmetries will also modulate cognitive control. Using the Dichotic smartphone app, the research team investigated the association of genetic variation in the handedness-associated gene LRRTM1 and cognitive control in the dichotic listening task. The results show that functional cerebral asymmetries in the language domain are associated with the rs6733871 LRRTM1 polymorphism when cognitive control and top-down attentional mechanisms modulate processes in bottom-up attentional selection processes that are dependent on functional cerebral asymmetries. The results suggest that cognitive control processes are an important factor to consider when being interested in the genetics of hemispheric asymmetries.


Beste, C., Arning, L., Gerding, W. M., Epplen, J. T., Mertins, A., Röder, M. C., Bless, J. J., Hugdahl, K., Westerhausen, R., Güntürkün, O., & Ocklenburg, S. (2018). Cognitive control processes and functional cerebral asymmetries: association with variation in the handedness-associated gene LRRTM1. Molecular neurobiology, 55(3), 2268-2274.


News & Views

A novel brain region in female zebra finches for the evaluation of courtship song

Humans select their partners based on a wide variety of factors; their looks, how much money they have on the bank, or a funny personality. For songbirds, it is all about song. Despite its crucial role in mate choice, little is known about the neurobiological mechanisms underlying the accurate interpretation of courtship song in females. Using a combination of functional resonance imaging (fMRI), immediate early gene expression, and behavioral tests, a group of scientists from Antwerp, Montreal, and Bochum aimed to identify the circuitry  involved in the evaluation of mating songs in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata). Females were exposed to either the longer, faster, and more stereotyped courtship song or a neutral song, and this revealed two brain regions, the Mesopallium caudomediale (CMM) and the Nidopallium caudocentrale (NCC), that specifically become active when listening to the mating song. The CMM is a well-known auditory area sensitive to differences in tempo. Since a fast pace is a hallmark of the male courtship song, this was not a very surprising result. More surprising was the activation of the NCC, a ‘hub’ area in the limbic forebrain. This area integrates complex auditory information with sexual imprinting memory of what is desirable of a song. Moreover, the NCC projects to the arcopallium, which is important for coordinating movement. Thus, the NCC is well suited to evaluate the attractiveness of a song and in response coordinate courtship behavior; like calling back to a desirable mate. This study is the first to show the important role of limbic pathways in the evaluation of courtship song and ultimately mate choice of female zebra finches.


van Ruijsvelt, L., Chen, Y., von Eugen, K., Hamaide, J., De Groof, G., Verhoye, M., Güntürkün, O., Wooley, S.C. & van der Linden, A. (2018). fMRI reveals a novel region for evaluating acoustic information for mate choice in a female songbird. Current Biology, 28(5), 711-721.e6. DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2018.01.048


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