The International Research Training Group “Brain-behavior relationship of emotion and social cognition in schizophrenia and autism” (IRTG 1328) is formed by German and American scientists of the RWTH Aachen University with the University Hospital Aachen, the Research Center Jülich (all within the Jülich Aachen Research Alliance, JARA) and the University of Pennsylvania and is funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft; DFG). The major aims of the German-American IRTG are interdisciplinary and international scientific co-operation and the support of young scientists with aspiration to cutting-edge research. Three basic principles shape the profile of the IRTG: excellence, innovation and international co-operation. To make allowance for the various aspects of the complex clinical disorders of schizophrenia and autism, scientists from a widespread area of disciplines are involved, including medicine, psychology, biology, physics and computer science, among them some of the world’s leading experts in the respective fields. The excellence of faculty and trainees and the international character of the enterprise combine to provide a uniquely inspiring research environment. The IRTG offers a study program that structures an internationally collaborative doctoral process under joint mentorship of a German and an American supervisor. The participants of the IRTG apply advanced brain imaging techniques, including structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI and fMRI), positron emission tomography (PET), magnetoencephalography (MEG), computational modeling of brain dysfunction, receptor distribution and microstructural, architectonic brain mapping, to study the neurobiological basis of emotion processing in schizophrenia and autism.

The IRTG 1328 represents the only structured doctoral program in Germany that is explicitly focused to the neural basis of two clinically and socio-economically highly relevant psychiatric disorders, schizophrenia and autism.

Genes, biomarkers, and mood disorders

Imaging Biomarkers of Mood Disorders: Impact of Genes related to the Serotonin and Neurotrophin System was the title of the talk by Dr. Lukas Pezawas (Medical University Vienna) on 20 May in the Spiegelsaal. Dr. Pezawas gave a highly interesting presentation on the work of his lab and explained the very complex facts in a structured, interesting, and comprehensible way.

News from computer graphics development

On 6 May Professor Leif Kobbelt (Department of Informatics) presented his work on computer game graphics and 3D visualization of animate and inanimate objects. Apart from creating three-dimensional virtual models of anatomical structures based on MR images, Prof. Kobbelt also addressed the issue of virtual faces and the challenge of creating realistic emotional expressions. This topic was highly relevant to the IRTG students since emotional face pictures are stimulus material in many emotion studies and virtual characters become more and more important in everyday life.

Empathy, autism, and fMRI

Empathy, Autism, and fMRI was the title of a talk given by Ellen Greimel in the IRTG meeting on 15 April. She presented her work on empathic behavior in children, adolescents, and adults with autistic spectrum disorder and in healthy control subjects. The interesting talk was warmly welcomed by the auditory.

Winter School 2008 in Aachen and Jülich

The Winter School 2008 of the IRTG 1328 will take place from 13 – 16 October in Aachen and Jülich. The IRTG students will present the results of their research projects and meet with their US supervisors. Furthermore the Winter School is a unique opportunity to intensify research cooperations and the German-American friendship within this IRTG.

IRTG students report on their UPENN activities

IRTG 1328 students Yu-Han Chen, Robert Langner, Yen-Bee Ng, and Dominik Sibbing are currently working on their projects at the University of Pennsylvania, closely cooperating with their supervisors and colleagues. The weekly lab meetings provide an active scientific exchange. The students report on their activities.

"I am cooperating with excellent MEG experts in the Department of Radiology at CHOP, the Children`s Hospital. My project at UPENN is to conduct a multisensory emotional experiment using MEG. The multidisciplinary research environment at PENN is no doubt providing a great research resource for doing neuroscience. During the 6 months of my stay, the colleagues in MEG labs and BBL have been extremely helpful with my project and the training here is excellent. I really like this opportunity to experience different research training in Germany as well as in the United States.”
Yu-Han Chen, March 2008

“I am cooperating with the Anjan Chatterjee lab of the Department of Neurology at HUP. My project at UPENN is to conduct a sustained-attention study with neurological patients. I've been staying here for about 1 week now and so far I am still preparing data collection. But with excellent support from my colleagues I will be able to present first results before long.”
Robert Langner, March 2008

“The research training in Prof. Arnold's lab in Pennsylvania gives me a formidable challenge and promises great reward in terms of understanding immunohistochemistry staining, and quantitatively and qualitatively analyzing microscopy of protein expression. We are looking at the apoptosis and proteosome markers in schizophrenia, aging, and Alzheimer's disease. The findings will yield insight into understanding the plasticity and the synaptic remodelling in those diseases.”
Yen-Bee Ng, March 2008

"The main goal of my US Stay is the 3D reconstruction of the FEBA faces to enrich a statistical model of faces by certain emotions like happiness, fear, anger, disgust, and sadness. Therefore I solved so far necessary camera calibration issues and I am able do to basic 3D stereo reconstruction. In addition to the static geometry the statistical model also should integrate dynamic data which we want to get from pure videos. This kind of data is not easy to acquire or organize, but fortunately my supervisor Prof. Badler organized videos of faces showing different emotions. I was also given the opportunity to use a professional software for the tracking of featurepoints, which simplifies my work very much. Beside conversations which were very helpful to me, I got the impression that my colleagues are quite interested in my work. So I was asked to give a demo presentation for some new Ph.D. candidates. I attend some of the offered UPENN classes together with my colleagues. The classes are really interesting because they address current topics like NVidia's new architecture for graphics cards."
Dominik Sibbing, March 2008

Neural correlates of empathic behavior in autism

On 11 March Isabel Dziobek (MPI Berlin) presented her highly interesting work on empathy in autism and its neural correlates. Despite a lack of research into its different components, autism spectrum conditions (ASC) are generally believed to involve a lack of empathy. Dr. Dziobek presented a series of studies using ecologically valid tests of cognitive and emotional empathy, as well as structural and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to investigate empathic behavior and its neural correlates in autistic people as well as in healthy controls.


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