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Ilka Diester

Bernstein Award for Computational Neuroscience in 2012

How our brain encodes movement

In her research, Ilka Diester investigates motor circuits in the brain. How does the motor cortex encode movements? Which signals does it send to other brain areas, and what information does it receive? And what stabilization mechanisms does it employ, when these circuits are disrupted, for example by strokes?

Within the Bernstein Award project, Ilka Diester plans to pursue these questions using both theoretical models and experiments. In her research approach, Diester combines two important tools of experimental neuroscience: optogenetics and electrophysiology. By optogenetic interventions, she induces specific perturbations in a local area of the motor cortex to temporarily activate or de-activate it. At the same time, she records the nerve cell activity in a remote motor area and observes the impact of the silencing or the overactivation of the first brain region on the second. How does area 2 react when area 1 is modulated – does it immediately counteract to compensate for the loss? "The results will allow us to deduce which robust mechanisms the motor cortex has to compensate small damages in the short term," says Diester.

Diester’s previous work has laid the foundations for the experimental approach to her research. She has managed to establish optogenetics in the motor system of non-human primates for the first time. By means of the Bernstein Award, she will now deepen further the theoretical aspects of her work. In this context, she is particularly interested in the question of how neural networks re-adjust to deactivating or overstimulating certain components. The long-term goal of Ilka Diester’s research is to gain a solid understanding of the motor cortex circuits, which is a prerequisite for developing neural prostheses.



Dr. Ilka Diester
Ernst Strüngmann Institute gGmbH

Deutschordenstraße 46 

60528 Frankfurt am Main


Phone: +49 69 96769 571