What is our research interest?
The selection of actions and appropriate responses is a fundamental problem every organism is faced with. Even though there are hundreds of response alternatives that are accessible to us every moment, we are almost effortlessly able to choose between different alternatives to organize our behavior. We are faced with this problem in many areas of daily life. Of particular relevance are "multi-tasking" situations, in which a large number of stimuli have to be processed and responses planed. For example, when learning to drive a car it is challenging to coordinate steering, braking, switching gears, and tuning the radio at almost the same time. Despite we are faced with such multi-tasking problems in many situations, the question of how we choose between different response alternatives is not satisfactorily answered. Moreover, the question of how we are able to perform multi-tasking in some situations, but not in others is also not answered. How are we able to flexibly control different actions, either one after another in a serial or parallel fashion? The same refers to more simple problems of action selection in choice-response and inhibitory control tasks.
The goal of our research is to combine experimental psychological approaches and theories with (applied) neuroscientific research: From a basic neuroscientific perspective, we aim to unravel the neurobiological and neurophysiological mechanisms underlying multi-tasking and action control. Our goal from a clinical point of view is to establish a multifactorial framework to explain the cognitive patho-neurophysiology of frontostriatal networks responsible for response selection in our brain.
What methods do we use?
The research concept integrates different, yet interlinked approaches in healthy people and neuropsychiatric disorders. Major research methodologies include
From a neuroscientific point of view, research in the field of action control is dominated by a "cortico-centric bias" (Parvizi, 2009, TICS). This means that almost only functions of the cortex are discussed to be important for multi-tasking and action control in general. Among the shades of this perspective, other models suggest that the basal ganglia play an important role and may vastly determine the efficiency with which we control our actions. The basal ganglia are an ancient brain structure that plays a major role in various neuropsychiatric diseases including e.g.
Autism Spectrum disorder
various neuropediatric diseases
drug abuse and addiction
Concerning these diseases, we are interested in how multi-tasking and action selection processes are changed as the disease progresses. As a part of these disease-related approaches, we also investigate the effectiveness of treatments. Besides the effects of 'classical' drug-based interventions, we investigate the effects of 'deep brain stimulation (DBS)' in Parkinson's disease and rare conditions of dystonia and other neuropediatric diseases. Results of these approaches will provide insights that are of relevance from an applied neuropsychological perspective since these studies contribute to the knowledge necessary to optimize treatments for these patient groups. At the same time, these approaches provide deep insights into the mechanisms of multi-tasking and action control.
Besides clinical neuroscientific research, we are also interested in how brain mechanisms mediate action control under ‘normal’ conditions. Here we use molecular genetic techniques to examine neurobiological factors that determine interindividual differences in action control. To understand the neuronal mechanism at the deepest possible level, results from the above-mentioned studies in healthy and diseased people are simulated in neural networks using "computational neuroscience" techniques, including artificial intelligence methods. Combined with brain stimulation techniques the goal is to gain causal, mechanistic insights into the neurophysiological underpinnings of human action control and disturbances thereof.
Translation into healthcare
We are part of SaxoChiLD, a regional network comprising the Technische Universität Dresden, the Universität Leipzig, the Robert Koch Institute, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, The Helmholz Center for Environmental Research and the Helmholz Institute for Metabolic, Obesity and Vascular Research in Germany. The overarching approach of SaxoChiLD is comprehensive epidemiological surveillance of child health and development within a changing environmental context, with special consideration of the interaction between psyche and soma.
"Unveiling the neurobiological processes behind cognitive control"
Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Christian Beste
Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Institute of Psychology, TU Dresden
Tel. +49 (0)351 458-7072
Fax +49 (0)351 458-5875
Universitätsklinikum Carl Gustav Carus an der Technischen Universität Dresden
Anstalt des öffentlichen Rechts des Freistaates Sachsen