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LMU researchers receive millions in HFSP funding

On the trail of neuronal networks, stem cells and echolocation

Munich, 03/31/2009

Three research grants from the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) go this year to teams that include researchers from LMU Munich. These projects will be looking into the way that bats process acoustic mirrors, how neuronal networks develop and what the significance of cell nucleus organization is to the differentiation of stem cells. Around 900,000 euros for each project have been granted to cover a period of three years. The Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) funds international research cooperations in life sciences that aim at clarifying the complex mechanisms of living systems. The program is supported, among others, by Germany, Japan, Canada, the USA, and the European Union. The HFSP primarily funds cooperative projects, where only research groups involving scientists from at least two countries may apply. The cooperative partners are supposed to tackle problems that can only be approached in a group and using interdisciplinary approaches.

Under the direction of Privatdozent Dr. Lutz Wiegrebe of the LMU Munich Bio Center, a German-Israeli research group will be delving into the echolocation of bats. These animals send out ultrasound signals, which get reflected off solid objects and are then heard as an echo. There is a special case in which an “acoustic mirror”, such as a water surface, will also reflect the ultrasound signal. If this reflected signal then strikes the bat’s prey, for example, then the echo will return to the water’s surface to be reflected back again to the bat. Because the animal also receives a direct echo from the insect, it ultimately encounters two different “views” of the same object: the animal must therefore be able to recognize and blank out the mirrored signal. “One of the things we want to know is what the bats perceive as water, and whether this also includes vertical mirrors,” says Wiegrebe. “We will be investigating exactly how disturbing acoustic mirrors are to the animals’ perception of objects and space.”

Another project involving Professor Thomas Cremer of the LMU Munich Bio Center, an English researcher and two American scientists concerns a new kind of mechanism in the development of stem cells. Changes in the architecture of the cell nucleus can have an effect on the genetic activity of a cell. This mechano-regulation also plays a role in the differentiation of stem cells into different types of body cell. “We intend to characterize the changes in the cell nucleus and their effects on DNA – and with it to identify mechanosensitive genes,” reports Cremer. “Another goal is to analyze the mechanical properties of the nuclei of stem cells in their undifferentiated state as well as during differentiation. Ultimately, we intend to develop an integrated model of mechanosensitive genome regulation, which should be of interest not only for fundamental research, but also for regenerative medicine.”

Finally, in a third project, Professor Dirk Trauner of the LMU Munich Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and colleagues in the USA and the UK will be studying circuits in neuronal networks. This is because we still know very little about how specific connections are made among the hundreds of cell types in the central nervous system. “We now want to use photoswitchable molecules to control this so-called cell-cell adhesion in the development of neuronal networks,” Trauner reports. “A family of genes only recently discovered, known as the leucine-rich repeat transmembrane receptors, or LRRTM, will help us in doing this. We are going to produce masked LRRTMs that can be activated by light at specific developmental stages of the nervous system, in order to study the development of connections between individual cells over time.”


Professor Thomas Cremer
Bio Center of LMU Munich
Tel.: 089 / 2180 – 74329
Fax: 089 / 2180 - 74331

Professor Dirk Trauner
Tel.: 089 / 2180 – 77800
Fax: 089 / 2180 – 77972

Privatdozent Dr. Lutz Wiegrebe
Bio Center of LMU Munich
Tel.: 089 / 2180 – 74314

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