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Learning, memory and neuronal plasticity – clinical applications
Our research focuses on brain and behavior interactions – specifically how behavior and experience influence neuronal processes and how neuronal processes change behavior and experience. A particular focus is on examining the role of learning and memory processes and associated neuroplastic changes in the brain in the development and maintenance of mental disorders such as chronic pain, anxiety disorders and pathological aging.
This includes experimental-psychological approaches, neuropsychological tests, peripheral physiological measures as well as structural and functional imaging and stimulation methods. In addition, we develop and investigate novel therapeutic approaches, especially with regard to behavior therapy, also combined with pharmacological intervention. These include extinction training, sensory discrimination training, virtual reality applications, neurofeedback and brain-computer interfaces.
We examine chronic pain with a special focus on phantom limb pain and chronic back pain in collaborative research center 1158 on pain and in the Perpain project of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. In a Koselleck award, we develop new brain-based augmented and virtual reality as well as sensorimotor interventions for early indicators of dementia, immobility and frailty as well as chronic pain (Figure 2). In collaborative research center TRR 265 we examine mechanisms of top down and bottom-up interventions for smoking addiction and in Graduate Research Program 2350 we examine determinants and consequences of violent video gaming. In the IMAC-MIND consortium we develop new screening and prevention instruments for addiction in adolescents.
National & International Joint Research Projects
- Project: "Mechanisms of Disturbed Emotion Processing in Borderline Personality Disorder (KFO 256)", 2nd funding period, funded by the German Research Foundation (FL 156/35-2)
- Reinhart-Koselleck-Projekt "Body representation and sensorimotor function as agents for brain reorganization and behavior change: from chronic pain to immobility and dementia" funded by the German Research Foundation (FL156/41-1)
- Collaborative Research Center 1158 “From nociception to chronic pain: Structure-function properties of neural pathways and their reorganization”, funded by the German Research Foundation (spokesperson: Rohini Kuner, Ph.D., vice-spokesperson: Herta Flor, Ph.D.).
- B03 – "Role of learning, stress and underlying brain circuits involving prefrontal-limbic interactions in the development of chronic back pain" together with Dr. Frauke Nees.
- B07 – "Neural circuits involved in phantom limb pain" together with Dr. Jamila Andoh.
- ZIM II Project: Assessment of human bodies in motion with stripe light scanners to identify maladaptive movement patterns in the musculoskeletal system, funded by BMWE (ZF4070801CR5)
- Quality of life, pain and neuropsychological impairments in patients with mitochondrial disorders, funded by the German Society for Muscular Disorders. (DGM), (Fl1/1)
- FRAILBRAIN: “Reversing maladaptive reorganization in frail brains: sensorimotor training, brain plasticity and the role of BDNF", Hector II Foundation Project
- Improving Mental Health and Reducing Addiction in Childhood and Adolescence through Mindfulness: Mechanisms, Prevention, Treatment, Subproject 2: "Development of addiction-relevant screening and prevention instruments in a mechanism-based approach", together with Dr. Frauke Nees funded by the German Ministry of Science and Education (01GL/17445B)
- Research Training Group GRK 2350 Impact of adverse childhood experiences on psychosocial and somatic conditions across the lifespan
- Project A04: "The relationship of ACE and violent video gaming: Effects on pain perception, pain-related empathy and aggression towards self and others", together with PD Dr. Susanne Becker, funded by German Research Foundation
- Collaborative Research Center TRR 265 “Losing and regaining control over drug intake: From trajectories to mechanisms to interventions“ funded by the German Research Foundation.
- Project C01: "Modification of the imbalance between goal-directed and habitual behavior in human addiction", together with Professor (apl.) Dr. Sabine Vollstädt-Klein
- Collaborative Research Center 1158 “From nociception to chronic pain: Structure-function properties of neural pathways and their reorganization”, 2nd funding period, funded by the German Research Foundation (spokesperson: Rohini Kuner, Ph.D., vice-spokesperson: Herta Flor, Ph.D.).
- Project B03: "Role of learning, stress and underlying brain circuits involving prefrontal-limbic interactions in the development of chronic back pain" , together with Dr. Frauke Nees
- Project B07: "Neural circuits involved in phantom limb pain", together with Dr. Jamila Andoh
- Collaborative Research Network PerPAIN – Improvement of the treatment of chronic musculoskeletal pain disorders through a personalized therapy approach with cross-disease multilevel diagnostics and mechanism-oriented intervention. "Analysis of dysfunctional behaviour patterns, neural circuits and low-threshold intervention and process evaluation through ambulatory assessment for chronic musculoskeletal pain disorders", funded by Ministery of Education and Research, (01EC1904C)
Selection of recent publications
- Baeuchl C, Meyer P, Hoppstädter M, Diener C, & Flor H. Contextual fear conditioning in humans using feature-identical contexts. Neurobiol Learn Mem 2015; 121: 1-11.
- Jia T, Macare C, Desrivieres S, Gonzalez DA, Tao C, Ji X, Ruggeri B, Nees F, Banaschewski T, Barker GJ, Bokde AL, Bromberg U, Buchel C, Conrod PJ, Dove R, Frouin V, Gallinat J, Garavan H, Gowland PA, Heinz A, Ittermann B, Lathrop M, Lemaitre H, Martinot JL, Paus T, Pausova Z, Poline JB, Rietschel M, Robbins T, Smolka MN, Muller CP, Feng J, Rothenfluh* A, Flor* H, Schumann* G, Consortium I. Neural basis of reward anticipation and its genetic determinants. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016;113:3879-3884. *joint last authors
- Klinger, R., Kothe, R., Schmitz, J., Kamping, S., & Flor, H. (2017). Placebo effects of a sham opioid solution: a rondomized controlled study in patients with chronic low back pain. Pain, 158, 1893-1902.
- Kuner, R., & Flor, H., (2017). Structural plasticity and reorganisation in chronic pain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 18, 20-30.
- Löffler, M., Gamroth, C., Becker, S., & Flor, H. Chronic Pain as a Neglected Core Symptom in Mitochondrial Diseases. Neurology, 2020
- Nees F, Usai K, Loffler M, Flor H. The evaluation and brain representation of pleasant touch in chronic and subacute back pain. Neurobiol Pain. 2019;5:100025.
- Rance M, Ruttorf M, Nees F, Schad LR, Flor H. Real time fMRI feedback of the anterior cingulate and posterior insular cortex in the processing of pain. Hum Brain Mapp 2014; 35 (12): 5784-98.
- Richiardi J, Altmann A, Milazzo AC, Chang C, Chakravarty MM, Banaschewski T, Barker GJ, Bokde AL, Bromberg U, Buchel C, Conrod P, Fauth-Buhler M, Flor H, Frouin V, Gallinat J, Garavan H, Gowland P, Heinz A, Lemaitre H, Mann KF, Martinot JL, Nees F, Paus T, Pausova Z, Rietschel M, Robbins TW, Smolka MN, Spanagel R, Strohle A, Schumann G, Hawrylycz M, Poline JB, Greicius MD, consortium I. BRAIN NETWORKS. Correlated gene expression supports synchronous activity in brain networks. Science, 2015;348:1241-1244.
- Wicking M, Steiger F, Nees F, Diener SJ, Grimm O, Ruttorf M, Schad L, Winkelmann T, Wirtz G, & Flor H. Deficient fear extinction memory in posttraumatic stress disorder. Neurobiol Learn Mem, 2016; 136: 116-126.
- Zidda F, Andoh J, Pohlack S, Winkelmann T, Dinu-Biringer R, Cavalli J, Ruttorf M, Nees F, Flor H. Default mode network connectivity of fear- and anxiety-related cue and context conditioning. Neuroimage, 2018; 165:190-199.