Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Who we are
The central aim of the research in the EGG (Emotion & neuroimaGinG) Lab is to understand the unique vulnerabilities of women to detrimental depressive symptoms, and the relation in which sex hormones affect depression and mood. Statistically, women are nearly twice as susceptible to depressive illnesses as men. While this does suggest that sex hormones play a key role in depression, the mechanisms behind how sex hormones affect mood are not yet fully understood. In the EGG lab, we use multimodal neuroimaging methods (Positron Emission Tomography & functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to study temporal changes in the female brain during hormonal transition periods, in order to better understand how this relates to emotional processing. Using the menstrual cycle as a model, we are able to gather further insight into how subtle hormonal changes impact brain and behavior. Supported by the Society in Science, we further explore how monoaminergic changes affect the brain with a specific emphasis on the serotonergic system. Finally, we study several vulnerability factors for depression that display sexual dimorphism, such as the change of abdominal fat distribution in mid-life, during the perimenopause. Nested within the Department of Neurology (Prof. Villringer), the EGG lab closely collaborates with the Day Clinic of Neurology to test the hypothesis that serotonergic drugs can enhance neuroplasticity during learning and recovery after lesions, which offers a new perspective for motor rehabilitation and psychotherapy.
PD Dr. Julia Sacher, M.D., Ph.D
Julia leads the EGG-lab. Her goals are to prevent and treat depression in women, and to elucidate the link between sex hormones and depression. Her current research program examines how subtle hormonal changes impact mood regulation in women by using the menstrual cycle as a model. Julia uses multimodal neuroimaging techniques (PET & fMRI) to study changes in neurochemistry and neural activity in the female brain and how they relate to emotional processing and mood. In her clinical work, Julia specializes on female mental health problems like postpartum depression and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
Julia also teaches POL-1 for medical students at the University of Leipzig.
Nathalie Beinhölzl, medical student
Nathalie is a 3rd year medical student from the University of Leipzig. Funded by a doctoral scholarship from the Medical Faculty of the University of Leipzig, she is working on her medical doctoral thesis as part of a project investigating the effect of antidepressants on emotion processing, motor learning and neural plasticity in motor networks
Matthias Heinrich, medical student
Matthias is a medical student at the University of Leipzig and he is working on his doctoral thesis in the EGG Lab. He is investigating the influence of steroid hormones on abdominal fat distribution and neuronal networks of the brain across the life-span (in cooperation with the Aging and Obesity group, Dr. Veronica Witte, Department of Neurology). Additionally, Matthias supports medical study visits in the EGG Lab.
Carolin holds a Master’s degree in Psychology (University of Tübingen). In her Master’s thesis, she studied reward processing in patients with eating disorders. Carolin is currently a PhD student with the International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS NeuroCom) in the EGG Lab, in cooperation with the University Hospital Tübingen. In her PhD project, she investigates how endogenous and synthetic sex hormones alter reward sensitivity in women and what implications this may have on mood and behavior.
Eoin Molloy (M.Sc.), PhD student
Eoin holds a BA from Maynooth University (NUI) and an MSc from Maastricht University. He is currently conducting research for his PhD with the EGG Lab as part of the IMPRS NeuroCom graduate school. Eoin's PhD is focused on understanding the effects of serotonergic transmission in motor learning and plasticity in the healthy brain. Eoin is investigating this question by using multimodal neuroimaging methods such as MR Spectroscopy, task and Resting State fMRI, as well as neuropsychological and behavioural assessments. Ultimately, Eoin hopes that his PhD can contribute to future research on depression and anti-depressant treatment as well as to motor recovery post-stroke.
Dr. Gesa Schaadt, PostDoc
Gesa is working as a PostDoc at the Department of Neuropsychology at the MPI CBS and at the Medical Faculty of the University of Leipzig. She is further associated with the Department of Neurology at the MPI-CBS. Scientifically, Gesa is interested in language development and its influencing factors. Specifically, she focuses on the influence of sex hormone concentration during mini-puberty (a period of elevated sex hormone concentration between the second and fifth month of life) on language-related brain functioning. In collaboration with the EGG Lab, Gesa investigates the interaction between mood-related behavior, language functioning, and sex hormone concentration during the development of infants.
Ulrike Scharrer (M.Sc.), study assistent
Uli graduated from the University of Vienna with a Master of Nutritional Sciences. After university, Uli worked in industry and academia. Gaining hands-on experience in human genetics research and cellular mechanisms underlying the infectious pathology of head and neck tumours helped her realize her desire to translate her knowledge to a clinical research setting. Thus, Uli recently completed the study nurse program at the University Clinic of Leipzig and is now working in the Department of Neurology in several projects i.a. exploring healthy ageing and stroke. In the EGG Lab, Uli is involved in the studies exploring hormonal transition periods as vulnerability models for mood disorders and their impact on body and brain.
Rachel Zsido (B.A.), PhD student
Rachel earned a bachelor's degree in Neuroscience (Harvard University) while researching sex differences in stress and anxiety-related disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital. Funded by an IMPRS stipend, she is now a PhD student in the IMPRS NeuroCom in the EGG Lab. Rachel focuses on how sex hormones mediate connectivity changes in the brain across the lifespan, and what implications this may have on mood and cognition. Her projects utilize the menstrual cycle to investigate how hormonal fluctuations influence the brain in both healthy women and women suffering from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). She is also exploring how depression susceptibility changes during hormonal transition states like the perimenopause.
Gergana Zheleva (B.Sc.), student
Gery holds a BSc in Psychology from the University of Leipzig and is currently an MSc student in the Neurocognitive Psychology program at the Carl-von-Ossietzky-University in Oldenburg, in conjunction with Dr. Sacher in the EGG Lab. She is currently focusing her master's thesis on the behavioral and neurophysiological effects of antidepressant medications on motor function. In addition to her academic work, Gery also recruits study participants, conducts screening interviews and is involved in the behavioural experiments of various projects within the lab.
Dr. Franziska Zientek, study coordinator
Franziska studied biology and received her doctorate in medical sciences. She is interested in molecular neuroimaging and neurochemical changes in the human brain and coordinates all clinical Neuro-PET studies at the Department of Nuclear Medicine, University of Leipzig. For the EGG Lab, Franziska is the contact person for PET scans within the menstrual cycle project.
Dr. Claudia Barth
Claudia holds a Master's degree in Biology (Major Neurobiology and Behavior) from the University of Leipzig. In her PhD-thesis, Claudia explored structural and functional brain dynamics across the menstrual cycle. For the EGG Lab, Claudia recruited subjects, conducted screening-visits, obtained neuropsychological and imaging data and was involved in preprocessing and statistical analysis of those datasets. Currently, Claudia works as a Postdoc at the Norwegian Centre for Mental Disorders Research (NORMENT), University of Oslo, Norway. There, she is involved in several projects, i.e. exploring the impact of hormones on brain structure in adolescents with early onset psychosis across puberty. Claudia was an active member of the EGG Lab from 2013 to 2017.
Melissa Hahn, student
Melissa studies Cognitive Science at the University of Osnabrueck and currently writes her thesis at the EGG-Lab. In doing this, she works on a startle reflex experiment, which is part of a study examining women suffering from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). In particular, Melissa is interested in the influence of acoustic stimuli on prepulse inhibition and other physiologic parameters in women having PMDD compared to healthy controls.
Fabian Piecha, study doctor
Fabian manages the medical aspects of the studies at MPI CBS. For his doctoral thesis, he is investigating the interrelation of sleep deprivation and energy balance on glucose homeostasis. As a physician, Fabian is particularly interested in the clinical aspects of basic research questions. For the EGG Lab he is mainly involved in investigating the effects of serotonergic antidepressants on learning and plasticity.
Elena Richert (B.Sc.)
Elena has written her bachelor’s thesis on the validation of a cognitive test in order to assess its suitability for longitudinal neuroimaging studies at the EGG Lab. After graduating from the Technical University of Chemnitz with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she is currently a master’s student in the Neurocognitive Psychology program at the Carl-von-Ossietzky-University in Oldenburg.
Sophia Schulze-Weddige, student
Sophia studies cognitive science at Osnabrück University. She is primarily interested how steroid hormones impact mood and our brain. In cooperation with the EGG Lab and the Social Stress Lab of Dr. Veronika Engert, Sophia is currently working on her bachelor’s thesis investigating cortisol regulation in women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).