Department of Neurosciences
The mission of the Department of Neurosciences is to foster internationally renowned research of the central/ peripheral nervous system, the senses, the mind and its disorders, and a high-end education of students and residents.
About the Department
The Department consists of 7 research groups that work closely together with other departments of the KU Leuven and the University Hospital Leuven.
Major Areas of Research
central & peripheral nervous system - pathogenesis - diagnosis - treatment - molecular neuroscience - systems neuroscience- cognitive neuroscience - psychiatry - mental disorders - neurotraumatology - neurosurgery - neuroanatomy - neurology - neurodegenerative diseases - stroke - epilepsy - MS - visual cognition - auditory processes - auditory prostheses - speech, language & swallowing disorders - oto-rhino-laryngology - electrophysiology - behaviour - neurophysiology - ophthalmology - neurobiology - gene therapy
Research Group Psychiatry Research Group Experimental Neurosurgery and Neuroanatomy
Research Group Experimental Neurology
Research Group Neurophysiology
Research Group Ophthalmology
Research Group Experimental Oto-rhino-laryngology
Laboratory for Neurobiology and Gene Therapy
Interfaculty Institute for Family and Sexuality Studies
The goals of the research group of psychiatry are to foster a specific environment for an optimal study of mental disorders, and, hence, a high-end education of students and residents. The research groups have a broad focus on mental disorders, from neurophysiological approaches to public health perspectives throughout the lifespan. The research focus is on developmental issues, the pathophysiology of mental disorders, and biological and psychotherapeutic treatment strategies. There are four main approaches: (a) studying mental health from a public health perspective (e.g. descriptive and analytical, cross-sectional and longitudinal epidemiology, focusing on the prevalence of disorders, estimate the impact of disorders, or measuring the use of services), (b) biological approaches mental disorders (e.g. ECT in depression, metabolic syndrome and antipsychotics in psychotic disorders, genetics and pathophysiology of autism, deep brain stimulation and clinical outcome, the influences of genetics and stress on HPA axis functioning and disorder development, neuroimaging in mental disorders, neuro- and pathophysiology of emotions from non-human primates to patients), (c) a focus on specific clinical groups (e.g. forced admissions, major depressive disorder, OCD, borderline personality disorders, bipolar disorders, autism, ADHD, frontotemporal dementia, …). The potential for future research lies in cross-fertilization of public health, psychometric and biological approaches with regard to developmental, structural, and treatment aspects of mental disorders and (d) studies related to treatment: psychopharmacological trials and psychotherapy process outcome studies
Steven De Vleeschouwer
Our research group focuses on the following research topics : neurotraumatology, basic research on brain contusion, research on bicycle helmets, kinematics of the cervical spine, prediction modelling for secondary insults after craniocerebral trauma by machine learning techniques, autoregulation driven therapy, Brain IT, optimisation of functional outcome after back surgery, optimisation of arthrodesis in a rabbit model, neuroanatomical research with surgical implications, clinical research on DC vaccination for malignant brain tumours, preclinical research on knock-outs of immunosuppressive pathways in mice, hyperspectral imaging for improved intra-operative low grade glioma detection, clinical validation of DTI and navigated transcranial magnetic stimulation for tumour surgery, research on multifunctional arrays, development of technology for electrical stimulation and micro-recording in animal models for psychiatric disorders and pain as well as in patients.
Several of those topics are nice examples of translational research. The ZAP members are closely collaborating with national (within UZ/KULeuven, e.g. Intensive care medicine, Psychiatry, Biomechanics, Materials engineering, ESAT and outside, e.g. IMEC) and a series of international basic scientists in order to bring basic science findings to the neurosurgical clinic.
The mission of the research group Experimental Neurology is to understand the biological basis of diseases affecting the nervous system, and to contribute to the development of therapeutic strategies to treat patients with these disorders. To this end, it develops several lines of research, coordinated in a dedicated laboratory, based upon the programs implemented at the department of Clinical Neurology (University Hospital Leuven).
The main topics are neurodegenerative disease, stroke, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. Neurodegenerative disorders that are studied are amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Charcot-Marie-Tooth’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, there is a program on cognitive aspects such as language and attention. The models that are being used are cell line and primary cultures, zebrafish and Drosophila, mouse and rat, and in the epilepsy program in collaboration with the research group on neurophysiology, primates. Several studies on humans, attempting to translate basic science findings to the human disorder are being conducted. The approaches used involve molecular genetics and molecular biology, imaging and electrophysiology. In addition, in these programs, epidemiological, genetic and therapeutic studies are being performed.
We study the neural mechanisms of visual cognition, visually guided actions and auditory processing. The Laboratorium voor Neuro-en Psychofysiologie examines the neural mechanisms of object and action recognition, visual learning, visual attention, binocular depth perception, visually guided actions and modulations of cortical processing by reward, addictive drugs, and focal artificial perturbations. To do this, we use a wide range of methods: correlative methods such as intracranial single cell and local field potential recordings in awake monkeys, fMRI and EEG in awake monkeys, fMRI and EEG in “normal” and patient groups, causal methods such as electrical and optical (optogenetics) microstimulation and reversible local inactivations, and decoding and modeling methods. We have the unique potential to integrate the invasive monkey studies with non-invasive functional imaging studies in humans and patient groups. Clinical phenomena can be investigated in a valid monkey model using invasive techniques (e.g. impact of epilepsy on frontal processing or effect of addictive drugs on visual processing) that cannot be employed in human studies for ethical reasons, and results obtained in invasive monkey research can be translated into novel hypotheses about dysfunctions in human patients. We will develop further the invasive studies by combining monkey fMRI and single unit recording and integrate to a larger degree causal and correlative methods. We will further develop multimodal functional imaging techniques and data analysis methods in monkeys and humans, moving forward the international state-of-the-art in these domains. An elaborate integration of human and monkey studies will surely occur given the arrival of Z. Kourtzi and A. Welchman and close collaboration between these human imaging researchers and the monkey researchers in the lab. Furthermore, we will continue and extend – if funding permits – the collaboration with other groups inside the department (e.g. Research groups of Neurology, Neurosurgery, Psychiatry, Neurobiology, and Gene Therapy) and outside the department (e.g. Biology, Radiology, Psychology, , imec, and ESAT).
The research in the laboratory of ophthalmology focuses on different blinding diseases, such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and corneal wound healing, aiming to reveal the pathogenic pathways in these diseases and to investigate new possible targets for treatment. The most important molecules, which are investigated in these diseases, are vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), placental growth factor (PlGF), lysyl oxidase (LOX) and rho kinases (ROCK). The number of projects as well as the research team has impressively grown over the past 5 years: from 1 PhD student/project and one half-time technician in 2006 to 5 PhD-students and 2 full-time lab technicians currently active in the laboratory. The research group has also considerably invested in the expansion of the technical setup and expertise, such as immunohistochemistry and cell cultures. Future research at the laboratory of ophthalmology will focus on the pathogenesis of these diseases and the further development of possible treatments.
Research at ExpORL focuses on normal and pathological human communication and ENT-related aspects, from fundamental to applied research, and ranging from diagnostics to treatment of disorders in neonates, children and adults. Because of the multidisciplinary nature of human communication and the inherent link with the university educational programs of Master LAW and ENT-specialists, research activities vary widely: hearing, speech, language, dyslexia, dysphagia, rinology, etc.
Two major research lines are “human auditory processing and auditory prostheses” and “speech, language and swallowing disorders”. About 25 researchers are involved and the research uses modeling, signal processing, imaging, electrophysiology, and behavioral tasks with focus on human brain processing. Research is clearly translational with 8 patents in the past 10 years and a number of clinical applications. Future research at ExpORL will concentrate along these two lines, and pursue the consolidation of the present neuroscientific research initiatives and the further development of two centers of excellence at international level.
The research of the Laboratory for Neurobiology and Gene Therapy focuses on monogenetic forms of Parkinson’s disease (PD), aiming to unravel the pathogenic pathways involved in PD, to develop and characterize new cellular and rodent models. Basic insight in the pathogenesis of PD will help to design and explore new rational, therapeutic strategies based on small molecules, neuronal stem cells, and/or gene therapy. We are using viral vector technology and molecular imaging as core technologies to develop and characterize new cellular and rodent models. The specific research interests include: the role of α-synuclein protein aggregation in PD; the function of PINK1 and LRRK2, 2 kinases linked to PD; neuroprotective effects of parkin; imaging and modulation of endogenous neural stem cells; development of neuro-vector technology. A recent new initiative concerns the introduction of optogenetics in the department, in collaboration with NFY (W. Vanduffel)
The Department aims to provide high quality training and teaching in fundamental and clinical neurosciences, from bachelor to postgraduate education.