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DFG Research Unit 1581

Project Profile P1


Combining Cells and Behavior: Neuronal Foundations of Extinction and Renewal


The neural basis of extinction is typically studied employing fear conditioning paradigms. Comparatively little is known about extinction of operant behavior that is maintained by positive reinforcement. Knowledge about extinction in this setting may prove useful for the treatment of behavior that is maintained by positive reinforcement, such as drug seeking. Therefore, we investigate the basis of extinction of positively reinforced operant behavior that reach from the recording of single neurons in key brain areas to the analysis of behavior.

We seek to clarify the roles of different brain regions of appetitive stimulus-outcome associations during three stages:

  • Acquisition
  • Extinction
  • Renewal

We are especially interested in recordings from neurons at two critical sites of information processing:

  • the nidopallium caudolaterale NCL (= avian equivalent of prefrontal cortex) , which may subserve contextual inhibitory conditioning during extinction
  • the hippocampus, which appears to be involved in the encoding of context during learning,

In addition, we are striving to characterize the involvement of several neurotransmitters in extinction.



We investigate the role of crucial brain areas during novel behavioral paradigms using a combination of

  • single neuron recording techniques and
  • pharmacological blockade and stimulation techniques

Subjects: Freely-moving pigeons


Cooperation within the Research Unit

  • Project P2: Methodological and content-related similarities. Both projects record from the hippocampus during the learning process in free moving animals. In addition, P2 will conduct hippocampal recordings during an operant conditioning task.
  • Project P4: They seek to investigate the role of expectancy violation on contextual conditioning. Parallel to their predictive learning task, we will conduct analogous experiments in pigeons employing an appetitive operant conditioning paradigm.
  • Project P6: Employs similar experimental paradigms with human subjects using fMRI.

In case of any questions regarding P1 please contact Dr. Maik Stüttgen:


  • SFB 1280 Extinction Learning - accepted! Read more: RUB news portal / DFG press release
  • SFB Extinction Learning evaluated successfully! Read more
  • Julian Packheiser receives treasure chest-support! Read more
  • Young Scientists enjoyed a Lab Day with our colleagues at the University of Marburg. Read more
  • Adriane Icenhour received the promotional price of the Faculty of Medicine! Read more
  • A day with Michelle Craske. Read more
  • Kid came to office: With a mobile nursery we support parents who need to take their children with them to the office in short term. Read more

 ♥ of the press

  • Cooperation with
    The online magazine presents in cooperation with FOR 1581 and SFB 636 extinction learning as one of the most exciting current research topics between mind and brain. Read more
  • E-Book on Extinction Learning
    To provide a most recent update on research on extinction learning, Denise Manahan-Vaughan, Onur Güntürkün and Oliver Wolf from the Ruhr-University came together to create an open-access Frontier Research Topic e-book.
    Don't forget...
    In everyday life we are continually confronted with situations where previously learned information is no longer valid – a phenomenon that psychologists refer to as “extinction learning”... forschung 04/2014
    German research 3/2015