Prof. Dr. Tobias Schmidt-Wilcke, Neurologische Universitätsklinik und Poliklinik, Faculty of Medicine

Tobias Schmidt-Wilcke

Research Programme:

I am fascinated by the ability of the brain to adapt in order to deal with new challenges and to develop new skills. The brain allows us to learn, which is enabled by a process called "neuroplasticity". Neuroplasticity even helps to regain functions which were impaired or even got lost within a pathological state (e.g. stroke, traumatic brain injury). However, the same or similar mechanisms sometimes promote dysfunction or even disease. In other cases a neurodegenerative disease can progress so quickly that neuroplasticity cannot catch up, leading to a continuous loss of function. There are three aspects of neuroplasticity/neurodegeneration in the focus of our current research. Using brain imaging, e.g. functional magnetic resonance tomography (fMRI), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and spectroscopy (MRS), we try to explore and understand the:

  1. neural correlates of various types of learning
  2. process of pain chronification
  3. process of neurodegeneration in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Parkinson disease.

Learning

Practicing and learning are thought to both induce and profit from neuroplasticity, which can occur on different levels of neural organization, ranging from synaptic plasticity to changes in complex neural circuitry. Modern brain imaging techniques such as fMRI and structural MRI (e.g. voxel-based morphometry, DTI) are capable of detecting macro-changes in brain function and regional brain morphology. New developments in brain imaging now also allow the investigation of connectivity between remote brain regions contributing to the same or related tasks. Our research focuses on the exploration of neural mechanisms that underlie various types of learning, such as perceptual, semantic, and associative learning.

Pain Chronification

Although chronic pain states are highly prevalent, the underlying neurobiological mechanisms of pain chronification are still incompletely understood. Increasing evidence suggests that chronic pain is associated with (maladaptive) neuroplastic changes in the brain. In recent years alterations in brain function and structure could be demonstrated in various chronic pain states.. These changes also contribute to other clinical complaints and symptoms, such as increased levels of depression, anxiety and dyscognition. Using fMRI and MRS, we try to better understand the neural mechanisms that underlie the transition from acute to chronic pain.

Neurodegneration

Certain neurological diseases are associated with neurodegenerative processes. ALS is a heterogeneous group of syndromes characterized by progressive muscle paralysis caused by the degeneration of motor neurons in the primary motor cortex, brainstem, and spinal cord. Using DTI and tractography our research aims at investigating white matter integrity in the corticospinal tract and frontal lobe to support clinical classification of disease type and predict progression rate.