September 3, 2020
ERC Starting Grant for Johannes Felsenberg
FMI group leader Johannes Felsenberg is among this year's recipients of a prestigious Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). He will use the grant to study the neural processes that allow memories to be changed, using the fruit fly Drosophila as a model organism. This brings the total number of ERC grants received by FMI scientists to 27 (since inception of the program in 2007).
ERC Starting Grants are awarded to promising early-stage scientists who have already produced excellent supervised work, are ready to work independently and have the potential to be research leaders. In this round of evaluations, 124 European researchers have received funding in the Life Sciences, with a success rate of 13 %. The awardees this year include FMI group leader Johannes Felsenberg.
The Felsenberg group investigates the neural circuits underlying memory re-evaluation in order to understand how learned information can be changed. When actual experience does not accurately match a learned expectation, the underlying memory can be destabilized and therefore becomes rewritable through a process called memory reconsolidation. Utilizing this memory update mechanism has proven to have great potential to alleviate ‘harmful’ memories in humans. However, very little is known about how a stable memory can be switched into a modifiable state.
Recently the Felsenberg group established a paradigm that allows the study memory destabilization in the fly brain structure that stores olfactory memories. First results indicate that the researchers have identified specific circuits, which are crucial for destabilizing reward memory. Building on these findings, Felsenberg and his team - in the projects now supported by the ERC starting grant - will combine genetic approaches with in vivo calcium imaging and behavioral experiments to unravel the neural circuitry involved in memory destabilization.
The work will establish the first mechanistic insight into how memories are destabilized and how boundary conditions prevent the initiation of memory reconsolidation.