Jaeger wins Einstein Fellowship for innovative study of brain circuit function

By April Hunt | Emory Report | Nov. 6, 2017

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Emory biology professor Dieter Jaeger (left) poses with Humboldt University professor Matthew Larkum and Robert Sachdev on the Charité campus in Berlin. Their research, conducted at the Charité, the largest university hospital in Europe, is focused on understanding the cortical dysfunction that results in Parkinson’s disease.

Emory neuroscientist Dieter Jaeger has won a three-year fellowship from the Einstein Foundation in Berlin to help with his work to understand the cortical dysfunction that results in Parkinson’s disease.

As one of the 2017 visiting Einstein Fellows, Jaeger will teach and conduct research in Berlin. His research with Humboldt University professor Matthew Larkum, who is internationally recognized for his work in cortical imaging, will take him to the Charité, the largest university hospital in Europe.

“The level of detail we are researching is incredibly exciting,” says Jaeger, a biology professor and lead scientist for Emory's Udall Center of Excellence for Parkinson’s Disease Research. “This quality of research also adds to Emory’s ability for international networking and our potential for collaborative grants in the future.”

The focus of Jaeger’s work will be the role of dendrites — the tiny, branched extension of nerve cells — in the cortex in receiving input from the basal ganglia.

Scientists know that dendrites help communicate important signals, but do not completely understand just how they work. Jaeger’s research calls for using a two-photon microscope to image the brains of awake mice, a method not established at Emory to date.

Such two-photon microscopy, conducted at the Charité, is able to precisely capture the pyramidal neurons, and the single-millimeter-long and micrometer-wide dendrites projecting from them. Learning how that circuitry functions would be a major step in understanding how it misfires and can create neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s.

“Being selected as an Einstein Visiting Fellow is an indication of the high regard that the international community has for Dr. Jaeger’s research in cellular and computational neuroscience,” says Ronald Calabrese, Emory College senior associate dean for research and Samuel C. Dobbs Professor of Biology. “It will also enable him to incorporate further optogenetic and imaging techniques into his research at Emory.”

The foundation awarded Larkum and Jaeger $336,760, which includes funds for a post-doctoral assistant to assist with their collaborative research project. Overall, the Einstein Foundation awarded $5.4 million (€4.7 million) for projects this year. 

Jaeger has been on sabbatical this fall to jumpstart his research. He will continue to work in Germany for two weeks every December and two months each summer, starting in 2018.