Lise Meitner Research Group Cognition and Plasticity

In the human brain, cognitive functions are organized in large-scale neural networks that strongly interact. Flexible interaction within and between different neural networks is enabled by neural plasticity, which is the key process that shapes brain function throughout life and allows for lifelong learning and adaptation.

The central aim of our research is to identify generic principles of adaptive plasticity in the neural networks underlying higher cognitive functions across the adult lifespan. We aim at elucidating the role of neural plasticity during the acquisition of novel cognitive skills, and also as an adaptive mechanism for cognitive challenges, counteracting cognitive decline, or compensating for functional loss after brain lesions. To this end, we use a multi-method approach, combining non-invasive brain stimulation (TMS, tDCS, tACS) with neuroimaging and EEG. Our key hypothesis is that neural networks underlying cognition can rapidly change the functional weight of the relative contribution of different nodes, enabling flexible compensation after disruption. For instance, after focal perturbation of a key neural region for language, recruitment of other areas within the same network, or regions from a different network, may help to maintain language processing. A better understanding of these processes will pave the way for future enhancement of plasticity and recovery after brain injury, such as stroke.

Flexible redistribution in brain networks for cognitive processes. After disruption of a key neural region, the contribution of the specific network is decreased. The brain may compensate by recruiting alternative networks.


Master students and interns

We are regularly looking for master students and interns. If you are interested, please contact .


Key Publications

Fiori, V.; Kunz, L.; Kuhnke, P.; Marangolo, P.; Hartwigsen, G.: Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) facilitates verb learning by altering effective connectivity in the healthy brain. NeuroImage 181, pp. 550 - 559 (2018)
Hartwigsen, G.: Flexible redistribution in cognitive networks. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 22 (8), pp. 687 - 698 (2018)
Hartwigsen, G.; Bzdok, D.; Klein, M.; Wawrzyniak, M.; Stockert, A.; Wrede, K.; Classen, J.; Saur, D.: Rapid short-term reorganization in the language network. eLife 6, e25964 (2017)
Hartwigsen, G.; Weigel, A.; Schuschan, P.; Siebner, H. R.; Weise, D.; Classen, J.; Saur, D.: Dissociating parieto-frontal networks for phonological and semantic word decisions: A condition-and-perturb TMS study. Cerebral Cortex 26 (6), pp. 2590 - 2601 (2016)
Hartwigsen, G.; Saur, D.; Price, C. J.; Ulmer, S.; Baumgaertner, A.; Siebner, H. R.: Perturbation of the left inferior frontal gyrus triggers adaptive plasticity in the right homologous area during speech production. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 110 (41), pp. 16402 - 16407 (2013)

Go to Editor View