Optogenetic interrogation of sensory processing in the brain


By combining a newly developed direct and quantitative stress-response test for mice with pharmacological silencing of small brain volumes, I have recently discovered an unexpected role of the forebrain in novelty detection. Silencing the forebrain abolishes the ability of mice to show the normal elevated stress response to an unfamiliar stimulus. This observation suggests that the mammalian forebrain tags an unfamiliar stimulus as novel and triggers alertness. It is possible that forebrain novelty-tags also trigger higher order processes, such as learning and memory formation. The undergraduate research project is designed to further explore the role of forebrain activity in novelty processing using optogenetics. With channelrhodopsin, an engineered light-controlled ion channel, we will artificially induce neuronal activity in the forebrain and study the effect on stress responses, learning, and memory formation.

Student Role

The student will assist in stress-test experiments of optogenetically manipulated mice, perform post-hoc tissue preparation, confocal microscopy, and anatomy to confirm proper forebrain targeting of channelrhodopsin. Depending on progress, the student has the opportunity to assist in tests of learning and memory formation in optogenetically manipulated mice.


The student has the chance to contribute to original neuroscience using state of the art optogenetic tools. The student will participate in almost all stages of the experiments, from experimental design, preparation, and data acquisition, to data analysis and interpretation. Moreover, the student will learn to work with mice, a species serving as a key model for humans in health and disease. This setting will give the student a clear idea about working as an experimental biologist and help to shape the students career goals. Finally, the student has the opportunity to contribute to a scientific publication. Taken together, I am offering a compact and comprehensive research opportunity.

Dimitri Traenkner
Research Assistant Professor

College of Science

I will personally guide the student to relevant literature research, the experimental design, data acquisition and analysis. The student’s particular contribution can be adjusted to meet individual interests. During the early stage of the project, the student will present the planned work in a 'lab meeting' setting to encourage exchange with other scientists. As it is my habit with all students, I will be available for discussions, trouble shooting, and hands-on help throughout the entire project. Moreover, I will assist the student to conceptualize and realize all presentations related to the project.