Matthew Larkum receives the European Research Council Advanced Grant for a project exploring mechanisms of anesthesia


Neuroscientist Matthew Larkum has been awarded an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for his research project "Dendro-somatic coupling and global neuronal signalling" as part of the European research program Horizon Europe. His research group at the Institute of Biology at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin will focus on the basis of anesthesia in the brains of mammals, including humans. To this end, it will receive 2.5 million euros in funding over a five-year period.

Anesthesia is arguably one of mankind's greatest discoveries. But although it has been used as a medical procedure for nearly two centuries, it is not yet fully understood how it works. Researchers still do not understand exactly how a substance can selectively turn off consciousness while leaving normal nervous system function intact. Solving this problem will not only be a tremendous help in understanding and improving anesthesia, but also promises to provide insights into consciousness itself - one of the last frontiers of neuroscience.

Discovery about the neurons of the cerebral cortex
A recent discovery in Matthew Larkum's research group suggests a possible mechanism that explains the effects of anesthetics. They found that anesthetics block the flow of information in the main neurons of the cerebral cortex, preventing them from transmitting feedback information. This is consistent with the observation that anesthesia leads to a massive reduction in global neuronal signaling, especially feedback - a well-established finding. With the ERC funding, Matthew Larkum's group will spend the next five years focusing on why anesthesia has this effect on neurons in the cerebral cortex. This research will be conducted on rodent and human tissue in collaboration with a computational neuroscience lab in Crete led by Panayiota Poirazi, who is currently a visiting Einstein Professor at the Larkum lab in Berlin.

Called "cortical coupling" as a dynamic mechanism for global neural signaling, this is a bold new prospect that could revolutionize our understanding of cerebral cortex, anesthesia, and consciousness, and may also offer insights into more efficient ways to develop artificial neural network architectures.

More information
About the ERC Advanced Grants
The European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grants are worth up to €2.5 million over a maximum of five years. They are awarded to established top researchers who have been carrying out outstanding scientific work for more than ten years.

To the ERC press release:
Source: HU press release

About the person
Matthew Larkum has been a professor at Humboldt-Universität since 2011. His research focuses on understanding the cerebral cortex, the brain structure most responsible for what makes us who we are. He has published numerous peer-reviewed papers in leading journals describing discoveries on topics such as what happens in the cerebral cortex at the moment of perception, how semantic memories are stored in the cortex, and the differences and complexity of human cerebral cortex neurons compared to rodent neurons.

After earning his Bachelor of Science at the University of Sydney, Matthew Larkum completed his PhD at the University of Bern. As a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate Bert Sakmann at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, he learned to make recordings from cortical neurons. He then established his own lab in Switzerland before accepting a professorship in neuronal plasticity at Humboldt University in Berlin. From 2016 to 2020, he has already been funded by an ERC Advanced Grant for the project "ActiveCortex - Active dendrites and cortical associations". In addition, Matthew Larkum is a spokesperson for the Collaborative Research Center "Mechanisms and perturbations of memory consolidation: from synapses to systems" and the ERASMUS coordinator for the Institute of Biology at HU.

To the Larkum lab website:

Prof. Matthew Larkum
Cluster of Excellence NeuroCure
Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin
Charité Cross Over - Campus Mitte
Charitéplatz 1 (internal: Virchowweg 6)
D-10117 Berlin

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