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Etiology and pathomechanisms

Neurocognitive (trans-diagnostic) mechanisms of mental disorders

​Neurocognitive mechanisms are crucial to the understanding of mental disorders. Cognitive processes such as executive functions, decision making, instrumental and Pavlovian learning, motivation or affective and social cognitive processes contribute to the dysfunction in action control observable for example in patients with addictive disorders and eating disorders. Underlying cognitive processes can be inferred by computational modelling of overt behaviour. Mapping the dynamic cognitive computations to brain activity assessed with functional MRI accelerates the identification of the involved brain systems. By combining behavioural testing and imaging techniques with genetic, pharmacologic and endocrinologic methods, the molecular, neurochemical, neuropharmacological and neuroendocrinological mechanisms are explored. Research at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig revolves around human cognitive abilities and cerebral processes, with a focus on the neural basis of brain functions such as language, memory, navigation, music, and communication. The MPI uses cutting edge equipment (MRI (7T, 3T, Connectome), EEG, MEG, fNIRS, TMS, TDCS, focused ultrasound) to examine mind-body-brain interactions. Projects involve the impact of psychosocial stress on brain structure and function; chronic impact of stress on development of hypertension, obesity; the mutual developmental/causal relationship between depression and stroke/dementia. Other projects focus on emotion regulation and its neural correlates and interventions, and on cardiac determinants of mental health and cognition.

Mental Health Dresden-Leipzig is involved in the following selected projects:

CRC 940

CRC TRR 265

AERIAL

FOR 2698

ASD-Net

Multi-method approach to investigate mental disorders

Within Mental Health Dresden-Leipzig, risk factors and pathomechanisms of mental disorders are examined in representative longitudinal, epidemiological studies (MARI study, EDSP study, BeMIND study, IMAGEN study), cohorts of persons at an increased risk (Early BipoLife), cross-sectional experimental and neuroimaging studies as well as animal studies (mouse model). All projects adopt a broad spectrum of assessment tools, including self-reports, standardized diagnostics and experiments/tasks on cognitive-emotional and social-behavioural parameters, assessments of neurobiological factors (e.g. hormonal, metabolic, chronobiological and inflammation biomarkers in blood/saliva, brain systems/networks using neuroimaging methods: EEG, MRI) as well as novel interventional approaches (such as fMRI-Neurofeedback and non-invasive brain stimulation: tDCS). Progress in the development of technical devices such as actigraphy and smartphone-based ecological momentary assessments (EMA) facilitates the real-time assessment of behavioural parameters such as sleep habits and locomotor activity.

Translational Approach

​Recently, the development of specialized research methods and the increasing amount of complex scientific data resulted in specialization of researchers and fragmentation into different research disciplines. Since findings from single disciplines are difficult to integrate into multidisciplinary, translational frameworks, there is urgent need for balanced translational research.

The most important challenge is the translation of discoveries from basic neuroscience into new clinical applications (e.g. improved prevention and treatment) and their integration into clinical routine. Another translational need is to further enhance the understanding of the specific value of valid animal models as a neurobiological disease model.

Innovative methods in translational psychiatry began to increase the number of promising therapeutic approaches in the continuum „from bench to bedside". Studies on biomarkers (incl. family-genetic markers) and on molecular, immune and hormonal function are conducted to improve risk stratification and research on etio-pathophysiological mechanisms is leading to innovative interventional approaches. Mental Health Dresden-Leipzig connects researchers of closely interwoven neuroscience research facilities and state-of-the-art treatment to build an inevitable basis for translational research. Thus, Mental Health Dresden-Leipzig provides an environment that allows direct communication between clinicians and basic scientists. Regular scientific exchange between clinicians and researchers from different disciplines stimulate discussions regarding translational aspects.

Mental Health Dresden-Leipzig with its various departments and institutes, as well as other collaborating institutions, contribute to pushing interventions along that translational continuum to the highest standard.

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