Neurobiology of sleep, memory and cognition

Humans and animals constantly receive a large amount of information with varying degrees of importance. Some of the received information is stored in the brain in the form of memories. Individual memory traces - memories - are further processed, organized and gradually integrated into larger coherent units that shape our understanding of the world. These integrated complex mental structures are often referred to as cognitive maps or cognitive schemas. Our research group is interested in the processes of organizing various interrelated information, representations and memories in the mind. We study these processes during wakefulness and sleep under normal physiological conditions, but also during brain disorders in humans and in animal models.

In preclinical experiments, we record the electrical activity of populations of hippocampal and neocortical neurons in laboratory rats while the animals actively explore the environment, perform various cognitive tasks, and learn. We study how neuronal activity represents different aspects of experience – for example, spatial and temporal context, the identity of objects or the relationship to the other rat. We are also interested in how the activity of different neurons is organized so that individual aspects of experience create an integrated representation of the experience. Our thoughts on the organization of neuronal activity are derived from theoretical ideas of cell assemblies and attractor networks. We develop and test these theoretical concepts using our experimental data.

Sleep plays an important role in consolidating and organizing learned knowledge. In our laboratory, we study neuronal processes occurring during sleep, which are the basis of cognitive processes during memory consolidation. Our hypothesis assumes that some cognitive function disorders in brain pathologies are associated with impaired or disorganized activity in brain neural networks. To understand such neuronal and cognitive disorganization, we record and study neuronal activity in animal models of brain disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis or obsessive-compulsive disorder.