PD Burkhard Pleger, MD


0234 302 3551
Burkhard Pleger

Main research

I am fascinated by the plastic capacities of the human brain. In a series of studies, I used different types of passive stimulation protocols ─ peripheral repetitive sensory stimulation as well as non-invasive brain stimulation ─ to induce brain plasticity. These approaches have in common a reliance on the principles of Hebbian learning, according to which simultaneity of inputs is a prerequisite to drive plastic changes. I found that perceptual improvements as well as corresponding plastic cortical changes can be evoked solely by varying peripheral or central sensory inputs, without invoking attention, reinforcement or behavioral information. These findings inspired clinical studies, such as peripheral sensory feedback training for the treatment of neuropathic pain or non-invasive brain stimulation in focal dystonia.
During my time at University College London I investigated prefrontal integration of sensory events and the associated prefrontal interplay with subcortical structures for tactile decision-making and reward-based learning.
At the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig I studied the obese human brain. We conducted a series of multimodal brain imaging studies with one goal: identifying targets for non-invasive brain stimulation or neurofeedback training. Besides my obesity research, I pursued my research on somatosensory perception and attention, as well as motor learning, and cerebellar contributions to cognitive functions.
Since 2016, I continue my research at the Department of Neurology at the BG-University Clinic Bergmannsheil in Bochum.

Curriculum vitae

since 2016
Consultant, Principal Investigator SFB 874 (Project A10), University Clinic Bergmannsheil, Bochum

2008 - 2015
Research Group Leader, Consultant, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig

Habilitation at University Duisburg-Essen

Board Exam, Neurology

2004 - 2006
Fellowship at Wellcome Trust Centre of Neuroimaging, University College London

1999 - 2001
Medical Computer Scientist, MIBEG Institute Cologne

1998 - 2004
Resident, Neurology, Ruhr-University Bochum


Publications (selected)

Wang BA, Pleger B (2020). Confidence in decision-making during probabilistic tactile learning related to distinct thalamo-prefrontal pathways. Cerebral Cortex. 30(8): 4677-4688. DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhaa073

Rullmann M, Preusser S, Poppitz S, Heba S, Gousias K, Hoyer J, Schuetz T, Dietrich A, Mueller K, Hankir M, Pleger B (2019). Adiposity related brain plasticity induced by bariatric surgery. Front. Hum. Neurosci., https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2019.00290

Weise C, Bachmann T, Pleger B (in press) Brain Structural Differences in Monozygotic Twins Discordant for Body Mass Index. NeuroImage

Wistehube T, Rullmann M, Wiacek C, Braun P, Pleger B (2018) Fat perception in the human frontal operculum, insular and somatosensory cortex. Sci. Rep. 8:11825

Kumar S, Grundeis F, Brand C, Hwang HJ, Mehnert J, Pleger B (2018) Satiety-induced enhanced neuronal activity in the frontal operculum relates to the desire for food in the obese female brain. Exp. Brain Res. 236:2553-2562

Schmidt-Wilcke T, Wulms N, Heba S, Pleger B, Puts NA, Glaubitz B, Kalisch T, Tegenthoff M, Dinse HR (2018) Structural changes in brain morphology induced by brief periods of repetitive sensory stimulation. NeuroImage 165:148-157

Hellrung L, Dietrich A, Hollmann M, Pleger B, Kalberlah C, Roggenhofer E, Villringer A, Horstmann A (2018) Intermittent compared to continuous real-time fMRI neurofeedback boosts control over amygdala activation. NeuroImage 166:198-208

Kuehn E, Haggard P, Villringer A, Pleger B*, Sereno MI* (2018) Visual topographic maps in primary somatosensory cortex. J. Neurosci. 38(5):1295-1310 (*contributed equally)

Rullmann M, Preusser S, Poppitz S, Heba S, Hoyer J, Schütz T, Dietrich A, Müller K, Pleger B (2017) Gastric-bypass surgery induced widespread neural plasticity of the obese human brain. NeuroImage pii:S1053-8119(17)30896-0

Kuehn E, Doehler J, Pleger B (2017) The influence of vision on tactile Hebbian learning. Sci. Rep. 7(1):9069

Grundeis F, Brand C, Kumar S, Rullmann M, Mehnert J, Pleger B (2017) Non-invasive Prefrontal/Frontal Brain Stimulation Is Not Effective in Modulating Food Reappraisal Abilities or Calorie Consumption in Obese Females. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 11:334. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00334

Weise CM, Piaggi P, Reinhardt M, Chen K, Savage CR, Krakoff J, Pleger B (2017) The obese brain as a heritable phenotype - A combined morphometry and twin study. Int. J. Obes. 41(3):458-466

Schlögl H, Müller K, Horstmann A, Miehle K, Püschel J, Villringer A, Pleger B, Stumvoll M, Fasshauer M (2016) Leptin Substitution in Patients With Lipodystrophy: Neural Correlates for Long-term Success in the Normalization of Eating Behavior. Diabetes 65(8): 2179-2186

Pleger B, Wilimzig C, Nicolas V, Kalisch T, Ragert P, Tegenthoff M, Dinse HR (2016) A comlementary role of intracortical inhibition in age-related tactile degradation and its remodelling in humans. Sci. Rep. 6:27388. doi: 10.1038/srep27388.

Kumar S, Grundeis F, Brand C, Hwang HJ, Mehnert J, Pleger B (2016) Differences in Insula and Pre-/Frontal Responses during Reappraisal of Food in Lean and Obese Humans. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 10:233. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00233

Long X, Huang W, Napadow V, Liang F, Pleger B, Villringer A, Witt CM, Nierhaus T, Pach D (2016) Sustained Effects of Acupuncture Stimulation Investigated with Centrality Mapping Analysis. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 10:510

Taubert M, Stein T, Kreuzberg T, Stockinger C, Hecker L, Focke A, Ragert P, Villringer A, Pleger B (2016) Remote Effects of Non-Invasive Cerebellar Stimulation on Error Processing in Motor Re-Learning. Brain Stim. 9(5): 692-699

Taubert M, Mehnert J, Pleger B, Villringer (2016) Rapid and specific gray matter changes in M1 induced by balance training. NeuroImage. 133: 399-407

Mathar D, Horstmann A, Pleger B, Villringer A, Neumann J (2016) Is it Worth the Effort? Novel Insights into Obesity-Associated Alterations in Cost-Benefit Decision-Making. Front. Behav. Neurosci. 9(360): 10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00360

Melasch JT, Rullmann M, Hilbert A, Luthardt J, Becker GA, Patt M, Villringer A, Arelin K, Meyer PM, Lobsien D, Ding YS, Mueller K, Sabri O., Hesse S., Pleger B (2016): The central nervous norepinephrine network links a diminished sense of emotional well-being to an increased body weight. Int. J. Obes. 40(5): 779-787

Melasch JT, Rullmann M, Hilbert A, Luthardt J, Becker GA, Patt M, Stumvoll M, Blüher M, Villringer A, Arelin K, Meyer PM, Sabri O, Hesse S, Pleger B (2016) Sex differences in serotonin-hypothalamic connections underpin a diminished sense of emotional well-being with increasing body weight. Int. J. Obes. 49(8): 1268-1277

Mueller K, Möller HE, Horstmann A, Busse F, Lepsien J, Blüher M, Stumvoll M, Villringer A, Pleger B (2015) Physical exercise in overweight to obese individuals induces metabolic- and neurotrophic-related structural brain plasticity. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 9(372): 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00372

Goltz D, Gundlach C, Nierhaus T, Villringer A, Müller M, Pleger B (2015) Connections between Intraparietal sulcus and a sensorimotor network underpin sustained tactile attention. J. Neurosci. 35(20): 7938-7949

Nierhaus T, Pach D, Huang W, Long X, Napadow V, Roll S, Liang F, Pleger B, Villringer A, Witt CM (2015) Differential cerebral response to somatosensory stimulation of an acupuncture point vs. two non-acupuncture points measured with EEG and fMRI. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 9(74): 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00074

Müller K, Horstmann A, Möller HE, Anwandler A, Lepsien J, Schröter ML, Villringer A, Pleger B (2014) Obesity associated cerebral gray and white matter alterations are interrelated in the female brain. PLoS One. 9(12): e114206

Preusser S, Thiel SD, Rook C, Roggenhofer E, Kosatschek A, Draganski B, Blankenburg F, Driver J, Villringer A, Pleger B (2015) The perception of touch and the ventral somatosensory pathway. Brain 138(Pt 3): 540-548

Macher K, Böhringer A, Villringer A, Pleger B (2014) Cerebellar-parietal connections underpin phonological storage. J. Neurosci. 34(14):5029-5037

Thiel S, Bitzer S, Nierhaus T, Kalberlah C, Preusser S, Neumann J, Nikulin VV, van der Meer E, Villringer A, Pleger B (2014) Hysteresis as an implicit prior in tactile spatial decision making. PLoS One 9(2): e89802

Pleger B, Draganski B, Schwenkreis P, Lenz M, Nicolas V, Maier C, Tegenthoff M (2014) Complex regional pain syndrome type I affects brain structure in prefrontal and motor cortex. PLoS One 9(1): e85372

Goltz D, Pleger B, Thiel S, Villringer A, Müller M (2014) Sustained spatial attention to vibrotactile stimulation in the flutter range modulates activity in primary somatosensory cortex. PLoS One 8(12):e84196

Horstmann A, Kovacs P, Kabisch S, Boettcher Y, Schloegl H, Toenjes A, Stumvoll M, Pleger B*, Villringer A* (2013) Common genetic variation near MC4R has a sex-specific impact on human brain structure and eating behavior. PLoS One 8(9):e74362 (*contributed equally)

Kalberlah C, Villringer A, Pleger B (2013) Dynamic causal modeling suggests serial processing of tactile vibratory stimuli in the human somatosensory cortex – An fMRI study. NeuroImage 74C: 164-171

Nierhaus T, Grundlach C, Goltz D, Thiel SD, Pleger B, Villringer A (2013) Internal ventilation system of MR scanners induces specific EEG artifact during simultaneous EEG-fMRI. NeuroImage 74C: 70-76

Schlögl H, Kabisch S, Horstmann A, Lohmann G, Müller K, Lepsien J, Busse-Voigt F, Kratzsch J, Pleger B, Villringer A, Stumvoll, M (2013) Exenatide-induced reduction in energy intake is associated with increase in hypothalamic connectivity, Diab. Care. 36(7):1933-1940

Böhringer A, Macher K, Dukart J, Villringer A, Pleger B (2012) Cerebellar transcranial direct current stimulation modulates verbal working memory. Brain Stimul. 6(4):649-653

Horstmann A, Busse FP, Mathar D, Müller K, Lepsien J, Schlögl H, Kabisch, S, Kratzsch J, Neumann J, Stumvoll M, Villringer A, Pleger B (2011) Obesity-related differences between women and men in brain structure and goal-directed behavior. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 5(58)

Hollmann M, Hellrung L, Pleger B, Schlögl H, Kabisch S, Stumvoll M, Villringer A, Horstmann A (2012) Neural Correlates of the Volitional Regulation of the Desire for Food. Int. J. Obes. 36(5):648-655

Müller K, Anwander A, Möller HE, Horstmann A, Lepsien J, Busse FP, Mohammadi S, Schröter ML, Stumvoll M, Villringer A, Pleger B (2011) Sex-dependent influences of obesity on cerebral white matter investigated by diffusion-tensor imaging. PLoS. One 6(4):e18544

Lohmann G, Margulies DS, Horstmann A, Pleger B, Lepsien J, Goldhahn D, Schloegl H, Stumvoll M, Villringer A, Turner R (2010) Eigenvector centrality mapping for analyzing connectivity patterns in FMRI data of the human brain. PLoS One 5(4):e10232

Schneider SA*, Pleger B*, Draganski B, Cordivari C, Rothwell JC, Bhatia KP, Dolan RJ (2010) Modulatory effects of 5Hz rTMS over the primary somatosensory cortex in focal dystonia-An fMRI-TMS study. Mov. Disord. 25(1):76-83 (*contributed equally)

Pleger B, Ruff CC, Blankenburg F, Klöppel S, Driver J, Dolan R (2009) Influence of Dopaminergically Mediated Reward on Somatosensory Decision-Making. PLoS. Biol. 7(7): e1000164

Obermann M, Pleger B, de Greiff A, Stude P, Kaube H, Diener HC, Katsarava Z (2009) Temporal summation of trigeminal pain in human anterior cingulate cortex. NeuroImage 46(1):193-200

Lissek S, Wilimzig C, Stude P, Pleger B, Kalisch T, Maier C, Peters SA, Nicolas V, Tegenthoff M, Dinse HR (2009) Immobilization Impairs Tactile Perception and Shrinks Somatosensory Cortical Maps. Curr. Biol. 19(10):837-42
Petrovic P, Pleger B, Seymour B, Klöppel S, De Martino B, Critchley H,

Dolan R (2008) Blocking central opiate function modulates hedonic impact and anterior cingulate response to rewards and losses. J. Neurosci. 28(42):10509-10516

Pleger B, Blankenburg F, Ruff C, Driver J, Dolan R (2008) Reward facilitates tactile judgments and modulates hemodynamic responses in human primary somatosensory cortex. J. Neurosci. 28(33):8161-8168

Schwenkreis P, El Tom S, Ragert P, Pleger B, Tegenthoff M, Dinse HR (2007) Assessment of sensorimotor cortical representation asymmetries and motor skills in violoine players. Eur. J. Neurosci. 26(11):3291-3302

Pleger B (2018) Invasive and non-invasive stimulation of the obese human brain. Front. Neurosci. 12:884
Kühn E, Pleger B (2018) How visual body perception influences somatosensory plasticity. Neural Plast. Article ID 7909684

Pleger B, Timmann D (2018) The role of the human cerebellum in linguistic prediction, word generation and verbal working memory: evidence from brain imaging, non-invasive cerebellar stimulation and lesion studies. Neuropsychologia pii: S0028-3932(18)30105-2

Ritter P, Born J, Brecht M, Dinse HR, Heinemann U, Pleger B, Schmitz D, Schreiber S, Villringer A, Kempter R (2015) State-dependencies of learning across brain scales. Front. Comput. Neurosci. 9(1): 10.3389/fncom.2015.00001

Hollmann M, Pleger B, Villringer A, Horstmann A (2013) Brain imaging in the context of food perception and eating. Curr. Opin. Lipidol. 24: 18-24

Pleger B, Villringer A (2012) The human somatosensory system: From perception to decision making. Prog. Neurobiol. 103: 76-97

Kalisch S, Pleger B, Villringer A, Horstmann A (2012) Geschlechtsabhängige Einflüsse von Übergewicht auf Hirnfunktion und –struktur. Adipositas 3: 164-167

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