Research Interests

Adaptive behavior

The brain's arguably most challenging task is to orchestrate behavior in the face of ever-changing environments. Our main research interests are the psychological and neural mechanisms underlying such adaptive learning processes, with a special emphasis on choice behavior. To that end, we subject experimental animals (rats) to a range of perceptual decision-making tasks. These tasks require the simultaneous consideration of several sources of information, such as sensory evidence for a hypothesis about the state of the world, and the probability of receiving reinforcement when committing to a certain response option. As in the real world, the validity of this information may change over the course of an experimental session. While animals struggle to harvest the maximum number of reinforcers possible, we record extracellular spiking activity in associative forebrain areas to elucidate the hidden variables which enable animals to adapt rapidly (and frequently optimally) to a world full of uncertainty.

Key publications:
Stoilova VV*, Knauer B*, Berg S, Rieber E, Jäkel F, Stüttgen MC (2020) Auditory cortex reflects goal-directed movement but is not necessary for behavioral adaptation in sound-cued reward tracking. Journal of Neurophysiology 124: 1056-1071. * equal contribution

Starosta S, Uengoer M, Bartetzko I, Lucke S, Güntürkün O, Stüttgen MC (2016) Context-specificity of both acquisition and extinction of a Pavlovian conditioned response. Learning and Memory 23: 639-643.

Stüttgen MC, Kasties N, Lengersdorf D, Starosta S, Güntürkün O, Jäkel F (2013) Suboptimal criterion setting in a perceptual choice task with asymmetric reinforcement. Behavioural Processes 96: 59.

Impact of single-neuron stimulation on local neural networks

It is widely held that spike responses of single neurons to sensory stimulation are noisy and uninformative. Contrary to this notion, recent studies showed that electrical activation of single cortical neurons can indeed have behavioral relevance. For example, stimulation of single neurons in rat primary motor cortex generates movements of the facial whiskers, and stimulation of single neurons in somatosensory cortex yields a behavioral response. These studies together suggest that the influence of an individual cortical neuron on the local neural network is stronger than commonly thought. However, the mechanism by which the activity of a single neuron is amplified and propagated through the network to eventually generate behavior is unknown. We aim to elucidate some of the mechanisms underlying the phenomenon of single-cell induced behavioral responses, using juxtacellular recordings and nanostimulation of single neurons in anesthetized, awake, and eventually trained animals.

Key publications:
Knauer B, Stüttgen MC (2019) Assessing the impact of single-cell stimulation on local networks in rat barrel cortex—a feasibility study. International Journal of Molecular Sciences 20: 2604.

Stüttgen MC, Nonkes LJ, Geis HA, Tiesinga PH, Houweling AR (2017) Temporally precise control of single neuron spiking by juxtacellular nanostimulation. Journal of Neurophysiology 117: 1363-1378.

Sensory processing in the rodent whisker system

The rodent whisker system is a powerful model system to investigate the physiology of perception. In a collaborative project with the Institute of Physiology (Prof. Heiko Luhmann), head-fixed mice are operantly conditioned to perform whisker-based psychophysical detection and discrimination tasks. Using a combination of behavior analysis, multichannel electrophysiology, and optogenetic interventions, we strive to elucidate the neural processes underlying the sensation of touch.

Key publications:

Vandevelde JR, Yang JW, Albrecht S, Lam H, Kaufmann P, Luhmann HJ, Stüttgen MC (2022) Layer- and cell-type-specific differences in neural activity in mouse barrel cortex during a whisker detection task. Cerebral Cortex 33: 1361-1382. * equal contribution

Stüttgen MC, Schwarz C (2018) Barrel cortex: What is it good for? Neuroscience 368: 3-16.

Yang JW, Prouvot PH, Reyes-Puerta V, Stüttgen MC, Stroh A, Luhmann HJ (2017) Optogenetic modulation of a minor fraction of parvalbumin-positive interneurons specifically affects spatiotemporal dynamics of spontaneous and sensory-evoked activity in mouse somatosensory cortex in vivo. Cerebral Cortex 27: 5784-5803.

Stüttgen MC, Schwarz C (2008) Psychophysical and neurometric detection performance under stimulus uncertainty. Nature Neuroscience 11: 1091.


Operant conditioning
Extracellular single-neuron recordings
Electrical microstimulation
Intracerebral infusion of pharmacological agents
Juxtacellular recordings and nanostimulation
Cognitive modeling


Universitätsmedizin der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität

Institut für Pathophysiologie

Forschungsschwerpunkt Translationale Neurowissenschaften (FTN)

Duesbergweg 6

55128 Mainz