Neuropharmacology Lab

(PI: Jan Haaker)

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.  

We run a project within the Collaborative Research Center (Sonderforschungsbereich 289) " Treatment Expectation", fundet by the German Research Foundaten (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG).

In our project, we are interested in how observational learning and interoceptive experiences are shaping our firsthand experiences. We have an open position for a PhD Student within this project: link

Website of the Research center:  https://treatment-expectation.de 

We use a laboratory model to probe transmission of threats by observation of others. (Haaker, Golkar, Selbing & Olsson Nature Protocols 2017) postprint: here

We found neural responses in the brain are overlapping (but not the same!) between observed and firsthand aversive learning: Lindström, Haaker & Olsson NeuroImage 2018

Observational learning from others' pain also recruits transmission of endogenous opioids in the midbrain, which have previously been described as mediators of firsthand pain (Haaker et al. Nature Communications 2017, open access)

Processing others' pain does not only involve the brain, but even the the spinal cord. Yet, here a clear distinction between neural processing of ohters' and firsthand pain is evident (Tinnermann, Büchel & Haaker Science Advances 2021)

Neurotransmitter systems to consolidate emotional (fear) memories 

When we experience aversive events, we consolidate these experiences into memories. We focus on neuropharmacological mechanisms that consolidate threatening experiences into less persistant memories in humans.

This project is part of a Research Training Group (Gradiuiertenkolleg 2753) fundet by the German Research Foundaten (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG). Website: https://www.emotionalmemory.de

In our project, we challenge two neurotransmitter circuits (Noradrenalin and Opioid) to test if we can weaken the consolidation of threat memories in humans. 

Research in our lab has previously demonstrated that L-DOPA adminstration after safety/extinction learning is effective in enhancing safety memory consolidation (Haaker et al PNAS 2013, open access).

Prediction and prediction errors of threats 

We are curious how we learn to anticipate and predict threats. In volatile environments, threat prediction requires statistical learning of the environmental structure. Thereby, we form threat beliefs, but also adaptively update such threat beliefs when the environment changes. 

This project is part of a Research Unit (Forschungsgruppe 5389) fundet by the German Research Foundaten (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG). Website: https://www.uni-hamburg.de/ru5389.html

In our project, we focus on how the brain and the spinal cord interact to predict threats. We further aim to challgene the neurotransmittersystems that enable threatpredcition in humans.  

Our group is supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG)