Cognitive Neurogenetics

Otto Hahn | research group

🧬 🧠 🌈 🤖 🧩

We are situated at the MPI CBS, Leipzig and INM-7, FZ Jülich and have strong ties with the MICA-MNI, Montreal .

What is human about the human brain? Humans have the ability to generate and experience thoughts and feelings that can be independent of instantaneous input from the environment. These integrative mental processes, such as social cognition and emotion, support adaptation to changing environmental demands, well-being, and, ultimately, survival. Integrative mental processes are likely enabled by the unique structural and functional network organization of the human brain. Indeed, contemporary accounts suggest that mammalian neural processing is organized along multiple hierarchies that define how information from nearby and distant neural populations is integrated and segregated across the cortex. These hierarchies are expressed in fundamental anatomical, topological, and genetic patterns, which vary as a function of processing complexity. The goal of the Otto Hahn group is to study how (phylo)genetic and environmental factors and shape brain structure and function and consequently behavior. We are particularly interested in studying the neurogenetic basis of integrative cognitive and affective processes, such as social cognition, as these functions are especially developed humans and have great environmental relevance.

How is the brain organized? 🌈

Recent advances in system neuroscience have enabled the study of connectome organization through unsupervised manifold learning techniques, which project whole-brain data into a lower dimensional space governed by connectivity. In healthy individuals, these techniques have gained significant traction to study large-scale principles of functional and microstructural neuroimaging data. Here we study such organizational axis, to further uncover the innate architecture of the brain.

Relation between dual origin and large-scale organization of structural covariance in humans and macaques.
For details, see e.g. Valk et al. (Science Advances)

Why is the brain organized? 🤖

To understand what factors shape the organization of the human brain we study its evolution and development using both human and non-human primate data. Here we compare patterns of large-scale organization across species and developmental time-windows. In addition, we investigate imbalances in structure and functional organization in neurodevelopmental disorders, in particular by studying individuals with autism spectrum disorder in cooperation with the mica lab in Montreal.

Local stability of cortical thickness measurements.
For details, see e.g. Kharabian Masouleh et al. Cerebral Cortex (2020)

What does brain organization have to do with body and behavior? 🧶

This theme evaluates the relationship between brain and behavior. On the one hand we study how effects of health-related (bodily) measures shape brain structure and function and what underlies these effects (neuronal vs. non-neuronal contributions). On the other hand, we study the association between mind and brain, such as the relationship between personality and brain structure and function, as well as the interrelation between mind, brain and body.

Association between personality and local brain structure.
For details, see e.g. Valk et al. (NeuroImage)

Connect with our friends and collaborators:

Boris Bernhardt and team, MICA, MNI

Jonny Smallwood, Queens University, CA

Daniel Margulies, Institut de Cerveau et de la Moelle épinière, Paris, France

Thomas Yeo, National University of Singapore

Connect with our institutes:

Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
INM-7 FZ Jülich


In general, we are always looking for talented and enthusiastic people to join our lab!
If you are interested in joining, please email us your CV and a cover letter

Sofie Valk, PhD
Otto Hahn Research Group Leader at MPI CBS and INM-7 FZ Jülich
Cognitive neuroscience | Heritability | Plasticity

Lina Schaare
Postdoctoral Researcher
Mind-brain-body-genetics interactions| Multimodal neuroimaging | Big data

Seyma Bayrak
Researcher & Medical Student
Gradients | Plasticity | Structure-Function

Bin Wan
PhD researcher
Asymmetry | Structure-Function | ASD

Neville Magielse
MSc intern
phylogeny | cerebellum | open science

Meike Hettwer
PhD rotation student - School of Cognition
disorder | connectome | genes

Sabine Oligschläger
Researcher & data scientist
connectome | networks | Bauplan