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Biopsychology Research Colloquium

Biopsychology Research Colloquium: 16.07.2018, 1 - 3 pm, GAFO 05/425
Janie Ondracek (TU München): Slow waves, sharp waves, and memories: exploring ancestral sleep in birds and reptiles


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

Why the left hemisphere understands language better than the right

We understand language primarily due to our left hemisphere, which is dominant for linguistic processes. The asymmetry between the left and right hemispheres is easily demonstrated during so-called dichotic listening: When different syllables are presented to either ear, such as "pa" to the left ear and "ba" to the right ear, most people report that they heard the "ba". That is because right ear possesses a more direct pathway to the left, language dominant hemisphere. The effect is also reflected in a speed difference between the left and right hemisphere: Measuring the EEG during dichotic listening reveals faster processing in the left compared to the right hemisphere. But why is the left hemisphere faster? The answer to this question was often believed to lie within a brain region called "Planum temporale", which is bigger on the left than the right hemisphere. Importantly, the left Planum temporale possesses a higher number of neural connections than the right on. This microstructural asymmetry might solve the mystery about the left hemispheric speed advantage. Hence, we tested if there is a direct relation between the processing speed and microstructure in a large sample of almost 100 human participants. Using advanced imaging methods, we measured the density of neural connections of the Planum temporale. Additionally, the processing speed was measured via EEG during dichotic listening. Our results showed that participants with a high density of neural connections in the left planum temporale indeed showed faster processing speed. This finding unreveals a key mechanism for the question why the left hemisphere is so important for language: The high number of neural connections in the left Planum temporale possibly enables a higher precision in the communication between neurons, which in turn leads to faster processing. This superiority in microstructure might be a crucial part of why the left hemispheric became specialized for language.


Ocklenburg, S., Friedrich, P., Fraenz, C., Schlüter, C., Beste, C., Güntürkün, O., Genç, E. (2018). Neurite architecture of the planum temporale predicts neurophysiological processing of auditory speech. Science Advances. 11 Jul 2018. Vol. 4, no. 7. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aar6830


News & Views

DNA methylation of MORC1: A possible biomarker for depression?

The MORC1 gene has been suggested as a link between early life stress and major depression in humans as well as in animal models. Here, researchers from the Biopsychology department and the division of Experimental and Molecular Psychiatry investigated DNA methylation in the MORC1 promoter region in healthy human adults. In a non-clinical population, DNA methylation in the MORC1 promoter region was significantly correlated with the Beck Depression Inventory score. In contrast, DNA methylation was negatively associated with birth complications, an indicator of early life stress. These findings further confirm that MORC1 is a stress-sensitive gene and a possible biomarker for depression.


Mundorf A, Schmitz J, Güntürkün O, Freund N, Ocklenburg S (2018). Methylation of MORC1: A possible biomarker for depression? Journal of Psychiatric Research, 103: 208-211.

News & Views

Left- or right-handed? The molecular basis of handedness

Based on latest research output, researchers from the biopsychology lab were invited to contribute a review article to the prestigious journal BIOspektrum, a molecular biologically oriented journal by the German genetics association. Reviewing the current state of research on handedness, the most prominent of functional hemispheric asymmetries, this German article describes research on genetic and epigenetic factors potentially contributing to handedness ontogenesis. Initially thought to be determined by a single gene, molecular genetic studies have shown that handedness is influenced by multiple genes. However, genetic factors can only explain a quarter of the variance in handedness data. Recent research indicates that epigenetic regulation induces asymmetrical gene expression in the embryonic spinal cord, potentially leading to motor asymmetries. An integration of multiple genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors is essential to fully comprehend handedness ontogenesis.


Schmitz J, Lor S, Güntürkün O, Ocklenburg S. Links- oder Rechtshänder? – Die molekularen Grundlagen der Händigkeit. BIOspektrum. 2018 03: 253-255.


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.


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