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Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine

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Cognitive Neurogenetics

Group leader: Dr. Sofie Valk

In the "Cognitive Neurogenetics" group, headed by Dr. Sofie Valk, we study how brain structure and function are shaped by innate and environmental factors. Cortical brain regions are spatially organized across the cortical mantle in a way that reflects both their function and genetic make-up, and the location tells us something about the evolutionary history of that area. The unique layout of the human brain gives rise to complex functions such as social behavior and imagination. Importantly, environmental factors, such as sleep, stress, or social interaction shape the brain as well. Our research centers around three main themes: 1) large-scale brain organization; 2) evolution and development; and 3) mind-brain-body interactions.

  1. Large-scale brain organization

    Recent advances in system neuroscience have enabled the study of connectome organization through unsupervised manifold learning techniques, which project whole-brain data into a lower dimensional space governed by connectivity. In healthy individuals, these techniques have gained significant traction to study large- scale principles of functional and microstructural neuroimaging data. Here we study such organizational axis, to further uncover the innate architecture of the brain.

  2. Evolution and development

    To understand what factors shape the organization of the human brain we study its evolution and development using both human and non-human primate data. Here we compare patterns of large-scale organization across species and developmental time-windows. In addition, we investigate imbalances in structure and functional organization in neurodevelopmental disorders, in particular by studying individuals with autism spectrum disorder in cooperation with the mica lab in Montreal.

  3. Behavior-brain-body interactions
  4. This theme evaluated the relationship between brain and behavior. On the one hand we study how effects of health-related (bodily) measures shape brain structure and function and what underlies these effects (neuronal vs. non-neuronal contributions). On the other hand, we study the association between mind and brain, such as the relationship between personality and brain structure and function, as well as the interrelation between mind, brain and body.

To examine such complex interactions, we build multivariate approaches to interlink and dissociate various marker of brain, body, and behavior. Longitudinal designs help to further uncover the causal factors modulating such relationships.

Kognitive NeurogenetikKognitive Neurogenetik

Dr. Sofie Valk heads this group both in the Otto Hahn Group at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and at INM-7.