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Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Fakultät für Psychologie
AE Biopsychologie
IB 6-121 - Postfach 18
D-44780 Bochum

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













News & Views

The brain under stress – a systematic review and activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis of changes in BOLD signal associated with acute stress exposure

...Everyone feels stress - be it a lecture at university, an interview or a first date. While we know that stress affects the entire information processing path, for example attention, working and long-term memory, there is so far no consensus on how these different situations trigger the same feeling of stress and what happens in the brain.
Many scientists try to answer this question and use different methods to induce stress in their subjects. During this, the participants' brain activity is measured. Given the variety of methods used, the question arises to what extent they are comparable with each other and which brain structures are activated by stress.
In order to answer this question, we have carried out a systematic summary and analysis of the previously published literature on the subject: In the Activation-Likelihood Estimation Analysis, ALE for short, the coordinates of the activation patterns from all studies are compared during the stress and it is statistically checked how similar the different patterns are. As a result, we get a number of areas of the brain that have shown activation in all studies.
We found cross-method activation in the insula, the claustrum, the lentiform nucleus and the inferior frontal gyrus, among others.
The insula is related, among other things, to pain perception, self-perception and social perception. As part of the so-called salience network, it integrates sensory and internal emotional information. In addition, it helps to control the hormonal stress response. The Claustrum is located directly adjacent to the insula. Similar to its neighbor, the Claustrum is also responsible for the integration of various information. It also has a meaning for consciousness. This suggests that under stress, study participants turn their attention inwardly to their emotional processes.
The inferior frontal gyrus is responsible for semantic and phonological processing as well as working memory. Since many of the procedures involve strenuous mental tasks, his role here is likely to be the processing of these tasks.
Overall, our study shows that most of the methods used to induce stress work well and produce similar results. It also shows that the insula, claustrum and inferior frontal gyrus play a central role in the stress response.

Berretz, G., Packheiser, J., Kumsta, R., Wolf, O. T., & Ocklenburg, S. (2021). The brain under stress–a systematic review and activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis of changes in BOLD signal associated with acute stress exposure. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.


News & Views

AAV1 is the optimal viral vector for optogenetic experiments in pigeons

..Birds are excellent models to study learning, complex cognition, song and vision. However, to understand how these behaviors are realized within the brain, methods that are able to control cellular activity on a millisecond timescale are essential. This can be achieved with optogenetics, where neurons become light-sensitive through the integration of artificial ion channels and can later be controlled with focused optical stimulation. However, this method relies on the use of viral vectors that have so far never been used in the pigeon brain. Therefore, in our study, we compared the efficiency of three adeno-associated viral vectors and found that AAV1 was the most efficient construct in delivering ChR2 into the primary visual area and various other brain regions of pigeons. We could also verify the light responsiveness of ChR2 expressing cells with electrophysiological recordings and immediate early gene expression. Most importantly, we provided the first proof of principle for optogenetics in behaving pigeons as optical stimulation of the primary visual area decreased pigeons’ grayscale visual discrimination accuracy. With our study we provide a viral strategy that can be used for the functional analysis of brain circuits in pigeons and offers novel opportunities for comparative research.

Rook, N., Tuff, J. M., Isparta, S., Masseck, O. A., Herlitze, S., Güntürkün, O., & Pusch, R. (2021). AAV1 is the optimal viral vector for optogenetic experiments in pigeons (Columba livia). Communications Biology, 4(1), 1-16.


News & Views

Prof. Dr. Sebastian Ocklenburg

..On Thursday, the 26th of November 2020, Sebastian was elected to the ranks of a professor – a title that is long overdue given his outstanding scientific achievements. Technically speaking, he assumed the title of an “Außerplanmäßiger Professor”. This requires the fulfillment of lots of academic criteria of excellence. In addition, two leading external scientists had to verify that Sebastian could successfully receive a call from their institutions. Their response letters were sparked with words like “a most creative and brilliant experimental scientist”, “at the forefront of research”, “tripled the expectation”, etc. So, it was absolutely clear that Sebastian deserves this title and the committee as well as the rectorate did not hesitate a second.
Congratulations Professor Sebastian Ocklenburg! We all are excited!


News & Views

PhD Thesis Noemi Rook

...On Friday, the 30th of October 2020, Noemi successfully defended her doctoral thesis on the “Neural Circuits of Multi-Component Behavior in the Avian Brain”. Noemi delivered a fantastic tour through her research by first explaining the omnipresence of what we loosely call “multitasking” in our everyday life. She explained that different kinds of functional organizations of action selection and execution are present under this umbrella term and can be beautifully teased apart by the Stop-Change paradigm. Using this procedure, parallel and serial actions can be disambiguated. However, a major problem remains and blocks the path for causal studies: There is no animal model. The establishment of such an animal model is exactly the aim of Noemi’s thesis. To this end, she established all necessary components to show that pigeons can be perfectly tested as an animal model and can help to tease apart the critical neural components by using molecular imaging and behavioral local pharmacology. As beautiful as all of these achievements are, the crown jewel of her thesis is the subsequent establishment of optogenetics in pigeons. For sure, this achievement will change the landscape. The committee was deeply impressed and awarded this grand work with a magna cum laude.
Congratulations Noemi! We are incredibly proud of you.



News & Views

Dichotic listening performance and interhemispheric integration after stress exposure

..Left – analytical, right – creative: that is a misconception many people still have about the two of the halves of brain. Although this is exaggerated, both hemispheres display differences in task processing – so called functional hemispheric asymmetries (FHAs). These FHAs have been thought to be relatively stable over time; however, past research has shown that FHAs are more plastic than initially thought. As the product of the stress-activated hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal axis, cortisol influences information processing at every level from stimulus perception to decision making and action. To investigate the influence of acute stress on FHAs, a team from the Biopsychology and the Cognitive Psychology lab from the Ruhr University Bochum invited 60 participants to the lab two times to perform three different tasks: a Banich-Belger task, a verbal and an emotional dichotic listening task. One session included a stress induction via the Trier Social Stress Test; the other session included a control procedure. We calculated across-field advantages (AFAs) in the Banich–Belger task and lateralization quotients for reaction times and responses per side in both dichotic listening tasks. There were no significant differences between the stress and control session in the dichotic listening tasks. In contrast, there was evidence for an influence of cortisol and sympathetic activation indicated by salivary alpha amylase changes on AFAs in the Banich–Belger task. This indicates that acute stress and the related increase in cortisol do not influence dichotic listening performance. However, stress does seem to affect interhemispheric integration of information.

Berretz, G., Packheiser, J., Wolf, O.T. et al. Dichotic listening performance and interhemispheric integration after stress exposure. Sci Rep 10, 20804 (2020).

News & Views

Human neonates prefer colostrum to mature milk

..A recently published study by Klaey-Tassone et al. (2020) suggests that human newborns can olfactorily differentiate colostrum, the initial milk secretion of mothers in the first three days after giving birth, from mature mother milk and water. Results suggest that human neonates prefer colostrum, the mammary secretion that is collected at the lactation stage that best matches the postpartum age of their own mothers. More importantly, they seem to smell the difference between the milk odors indicating an olfactory bias toward the initial milk while showing no preference when being faced with mature milk and water.





Klaey‐Tassone, M., Durand, K., Damon, F., Heyers, K.; Mezrai, N., Patris, B., Sagot, P., Soussignan, R., Schaal, B. (2020). Human neonates prefer colostrum to mature milk: Evidence for an olfactory bias toward the "initial milk"? American Journal of Human Biology, e23521.

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