Research Group Leader - MPI for Metabolism Research
Dr. Tittgemeyer’s group explores how our organism constantly integrates information about the internal state with external environmental cues to adapt behavioral and autonomic responses to ensure physiological homeostasis. To that end, the group is especially interested in understanding how the brain senses the needs of the body – such as the need for food – and then generates specific behavioural responses that restore physiologic balance.
Our research: The group led by Dr. Tittgemeyer strives for a translation of fundamental biological research to applied research in human physiology and mechanisms of human diseases. Thereby the Translational Neurocircuitry Group complements and extends the basic research currently being pursued at the Max-Planck-Institute for Metabolism Research as well as in CECAD on metabolic processes with studies on human physiology as well as on clinical diseases and pertaining states. Specifically, the groups seeks to advancing our fundamental understanding of the neural circuits that support adaptive physiological and homeostatic functions, as well as complex behaviours.
Our success: In recent years, the group has shown that gene variants associated with obesityaffect dopamine-dependent midbrain responses to reward learning in humans and that genotype-specific differences also relate to morphological features that render an individual to be more susceptible for food cues. Considering novel methodologies, the group demonstrated how subcortical and cortical circuits associate with different functional capacities of healthy individuals, how individual pathophysiological alterations can be classified based on MR imaging and how individual variability in different behavioural domains could arise from individual differences in neuromodulatory mechanisms. Very recently, a breakthrough has been achieved by relating dopamine release to different streams of information upon food intake, highlighting a mechanisms for how the brain transforms energetic signals into the desire to eat. Other recent studies concerned that question how signals that convey nutritional information from the periphery to the brain regulate food reinforcement and choice.
Our goals: The group’s goal is primarily to extend our current understanding of those biological pathways that mediate individual differences in behaviour and risk for (psycho-)pathology implicated in the control of body weight and energy homeostasis. To this end, we explore the role of reward processing and motivated behaviour in obesity, related disorders, and aging-associated diseases.
Our methods/techniques: Our research strategy requires a close interaction of theoretical and experimental work, an inter-disciplinary research environment along with an infrastructure that supports prospective validation studies in humans. To facilitate this interaction, another of our interests is to improve current techniques for probing neurocircuitry in vivo. This includes diffusion and functional MRI, positron emission tomography (PET), EEG and brain stimulation techniques, such as transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation. Over the past years, the group has built up extensive methodological and technical expertise particularly in combining structural and functional neuroimaging approaches.