How do we forecast dangers in our environment? And how does our brain compute predictions of threats?
Research in our lab focuses on neurotransmitter systems that regulate how we learn from and respond to aversive experiences.
To reach this goal, we combine pharmacological interventions in humans with functional neuroimaging (fMRI) and psychophysiological methods.
Social learning of threats
We often learn by observation of others what is dangerous in our environment. Our group examines the neural systems in the brain and spinal cord that regulate how we learn fear responses by social information.
Here is a protocol description for a laboratory model to probe transmission of threats by observation of others. (Haaker, Golkar, Selbing & Olsson Nature Protocols 2017) postprint: here
We recently found neural responses in the spinal cord, when learning from painful stimuation that is observed in others (Tinnermann, Büchel & Haaker Science Advances 2021)
Neuropharmacology of social learning
What are the neurochemical substrates that enable to transmit information from one person to another? We examine neuropharmacological systems that are involved in social learning by observation of others.
Project from my post-doc that focused on GABA and noradrenaline during observational learning (Esser et al. Behavior, Research and Therapy 2020) preprint: here
Project that showed invovlement of endogenous opioids in the midbrain when we learn from observationa of others' painful stimulation (Haaker et al. Nature Communications 2017, open access)
Neurotransmitter systems to augment safety learning and extinction of fear
How we can overcome fears by learning to be safe? We investigate the dopaminergic and endocannbinoid system for their inpact on safety learning to combat fear.
Project from my post-doc within a collaborative research center (Sonderforschungsbereich TRR 58: Furch, Angst, Angsterkrankungen) that showed how L-DOPA adminstration enhances responses in the vmPFC, which mediated reduction of conditioned fear responses. It furhter suggest involvement of the Nucleus Accumbens and the ventral tegemntal area (VTA) in the safety/extinction learning. (Esser et al. 2021 Under Review) preprint: here
My PhD-Thesis project that demonstrated that L-DOPA adminstration after safety/extinction learning is effective in reducing conditioned fear responses (Haaker et al PNAS 2013, open access).
Translational models of fear and anxiety
We are curious how we learn to anticipate aversive experiences (e.g. pain) and respond with fear. To reach this goal, we use laboratory models of aversive learning and return of fear in humans that are inspired by research in animals.
Here, we reviewed the methodological consideration when examining fear conditioning protocols in rodents and humans (Haaker et al. Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews 2019, open access)
Our group is supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG)