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Research group Normann / Vestring

Mechanisms of Depression
Research group leader: Prof. Dr. Claus Normann
Email: claus.normann@uniklinik-freiburg.de

Dr. Stefan Vestring
Email: stefan.vestring@uniklinik-freiburg.de
Group members:

PostDoc: Dr. Maxim Veleanu
PhD-student: Msc. Viktoria Galuba
PhD-student: Louise Schubert
Masterstudent: Guilermo Suarez
Masterstudent: Prejwal Prabhakaran
Physicians: PD Dr. Juan Carlos Baldermann-Weiß
Dr. Felix Mülsch
Dr. Jan Paulus
Dr. Manuela Hamoudi
Dr. Lydia Mertens
Psychologist: Dr. Nicola Thiel
Doctoral students: Sabine Voita
Alejandro Aguilera
Anouk Ihle
Franziska von der Decken
Lotta Borger
Jakob Brandl
Kathleen Karkossa
Julia Elicker
Dagmar Kilgus
Anna Li
Doniali Tarhini
David Weigel
Clara Schünemann
Paul Rossner
Elisa Deiss
Dorothea Bader
Janina Frenk
Jonathan Vogt
Anne Alex
Viktoria Chauvard
Samira Assaad Dib
Sarah Hag
Victoria Heer
Judith Bernhardt
Magdalena Neureither
Fabian Hummel
Martin Bronnec
Clotilde Vivet
Stella Zimermann
Lea Smoltzyk
Odile Sorg
Annika Oligschläger
Juliana Zelder
Anne Zeien
Anna Catarata
Rebecca Heck
Maguerite Anselin
Pauline Löwe
Anna Schnecking
Magalie Müller
Lara Schwarzenberg
Rouven Schmalz
Nadine Kirbach
Anna Sita Berger
Lisa Charlotte Bauer
Thibault Meisenbach
Gabriel Burgos Kim
Other Members: Florian Mainberger (Biologist)
Manfred Weber (Study nurse)
Collaborations: ERA-NET Neuron
Prof. Josef Bischofberger, Basel
Prof. Eero Castrén, Helsinki
Dr. Tsvetan Serchov, Strassbourg
Prof. Shira Knafo, Negev
Prof. Dr. Andreas Vlachos, Freiburg
Prof. Markus Heinrichs
Prof. Christoph Nissen, Bern
Dr. Jan Wolff, Braunschweig
Prof. Dominik Elverfeldt, Freiburg
Prof. Dr. Bernd Fakler, Freiburg
Prof. Igor Branchi, Rome
euroModulBasics, Freiburg
German Center for Brain Stimulation
CBASP Network

Research focus

We have successfully combined expertise in clinical psychiatry and psychotherapy, neuropsychopharmacology and basic science to develop a translational approach in order to understand the pathophysiology of affective disorders and to develop novel treatment strategies for major depression. Our research group was among the first to develop and to support the neuroplasticity hypothesis of depression. Starting from a basic science approach with a focus on long-term synaptic depression (LTD), we soon discovered a facilitation of LTD and an inhibition of long-term synaptic potentiation (LTP) in different animal models of depression and early stress, which were effectively restored by different classes of antidepressants. We have characterized novel targets for antidepressant action, including Ca2+ channels, TrkB receptor, mGluR, NMDA receptor subunits. In a translational approach, we have developed and examined methods to assess correlates of synaptic plasticity in healthy humans and depressed patients; including the characterization of therapeutic mechanisms. A neuroplasticity approach to explain and to treat depression highlights the importance of interactions between disorder, treatment and environment. Moreover, it suggests effective ways to augment psychotherapeutic approaches by medication and brain stimulation; hereby providing a science based reconciliation between the schools of biologically and psychotherapeutically oriented psychiatrists. We combine clinical psychiatry and psychotherapy with advanced basic science; thus allowing real bench-to-bedside translation. Our final aim is to contribute to an integrative, science-based and effective treatment of major depression.

Research projects

1. Basic mechanisms of synaptic plasticity
Mechanism of associative LTD, role of astrocytes in LTP, calcium influx pathways, modulation of different forms of synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus.

2. Synaptic plasticity in animal models of depression
Behavioral assessment and synaptic plasticity in animal models of depression and early stress.

3. Modulation of synaptic plasticity by antidepressants
Multidimensional approach assessing the modulation of synaptic plasticity by antidepressants and rapid-acting antidepressants, behavioural methods and electrophysiological recordings. Identification of novel targets for antidepressant action (TrkB receptor, mGluR, NMDAR subunits)

4. Correlates of synaptic plasticity in humans
Translational assessment of brain plasticity in healthy controls and depressed patients by visually evoked potentials, transcranial magnetic stimulation, imaging and behavioral methods.

5. Augmentation of psychotherapy and effect of environmental factors on mood disorders
D-Cycloserine in depression, social cognition and influence of positive and negative external stimuli in states of altered plasticity. Role of oxytocin in mood disorders.

6. Treatment of chronic and therapy-resistant depression
Extensive research on CBASP for chronic depression, implementation of in-patient treatment programs for chronic depression and TRD, pharmacotherapy for TRD and bipolar disorder. Brain stimulation: clinical and preclinical ECT, tDCS and rTMS research

7. Health economics
Funding of psychiatric care, AI-based prediction of treatment outcomes and pharmacological trajectories

Research methods

Laboratory research
Electrophysiology and calcium imaging
Patch-clamp technique, focus on synaptic plasticity
Fluorescence imaging
    Single cell dye fillings, microelectrophoresis
    Immunofluorescent and native stainings
Molecular biology
Standard molecular biology techniques (PCR, WB, cell culture)

Animal behavioural experiments
Behavioral animal models of depression
Readout methods
    Escape behaviour
    Learning tasks (object location memory, novel object test, Maze tests)
    Reward/anhedonia (sucrose preference test, nose pokes sucrose preference)
Locomotion/anxiety (Open Field Test)

Clinical research
Assessment of plasticity in humans
Visually evoked potentials (VEPs)
Paired associative Stimulation (PAS)
Different learning tasks (TDT, fear conditioning, motor learning)
Phase II to IV and IIT clinical trials in MDD, bipolar disorder, psychosis, psychotherapy. Continuous GCP/ICH certification.

Medical dissertations and master projects

Many medical dissertations and master projects have been successfully finished in our lab or clinical projects. We are constantly recruiting new students. The projects are intensely supervised. Please apply by mail (viktoria.galuba@uniklinik-freiburg.de).
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News in the media

Peer-reviewed publications

132 original publications, 7482 citations, h-index 43 (Google Scholar)

» Full List of Publications in PubMed


Selected peer-reviewed publications

  • Vestring, S., Galuba, V., Kern, E., Voita, S., Berens, F., Nasiri, D., Domschke, K., & Normann, C. (2024). Ketamine in multiple treatment-resistant depressed inpatients: A naturalistic cohort study. Journal of affective disorders, 350, 895–899. doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2024.01.165
  • Vestring, S., Dorner, A., Scholliers, J., Ehrenberger, K., Kiss, A., Arenz, L., Theiss, A., Rossner, P., Frase, S., Du Vinage, C., Wendler, E., Serchov, T., Domschke, K., Bischofberger, J., & Normann, C. (2024). D-Cycloserine enhances the bidirectional range of NMDAR-dependent hippocampal synaptic plasticity. Translational psychiatry, 14(1), 18. doi.org/10.1038/s41398-023-02725-7
  • Reif, A., Bitter, I., Buyze, J., Cebulla, K., Frey, R., Fu, D. J., Ito, T., Kambarov, Y., Llorca, P. M., Oliveira-Maia, A. J., Messer, T., Mulhern-Haughey, S., Rive, B., von Holt, C., Young, A. H., Godinov, Y., & ESCAPE-TRD Investigators (2023). Esketamine Nasal Spray versus Quetiapine for Treatment-Resistant Depression. The New England journal of medicine, 389(14), 1298–1309. doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa2304145
  • Burkhardt, G., Kumpf, U., Crispin, A., Goerigk, S., Andre, E., Plewnia, C., Brendel, B., Fallgatter, A., Langguth, B., Abdelnaim, M., Hebel, T., Normann, C., Frase, L., Zwanzger, P., Diemer, J., Kammer, T., Schönfeldt-Lecuona, C., Kamp, D., Bajbouj, M., Behler, N., … Padberg, F. (2023). Transcranial direct current stimulation as an additional treatment to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in adults with major depressive disorder in Germany (DepressionDC): a triple-blind, randomised, sham-controlled, multicentre trial. Lancet (London, England), 402(10401), 545–554. doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(23)00640-2

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