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Klinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie

Research group Tebartz van Elst / Goll

Visual Neuroscience
Research group leader:Ludger Tebartz van Elst / Peter Goll
Phone: +49 (0)761 270 - 65010
Email: tebartzvanelst@uniklinik-freiburg.de /

Secretariat: Frau Scheld
Phone: +49 (0)761 270 - 65290
Group members:Dieter Ebert
Michael Dörr
Yu-Min Liang
Julia Blessing
Erika Scheffler
Lisa Werner

Research focus

The search for valid and easy to assess biomarkers is of utmost importance in neuropsychiatry. Visual contrast sensitivity is essentially modulated by systemic dopaminergic activity. Thus the assessment visual contrast sensitivity is a way to probe the integrity of the systemic functioning of the dopaminergic system in the brain.
Visual contrast sensitivity can be assessment with psychophysical means when probands are asked to consciously discriminate contrast differences (see figure 1).

Figure 1: Ecample of Gabor stimuli used in the experimental set-up. The panel of the left illustrates a trial with no target stimulus (i.e., all stimuli have the same contrast). The panel on the right shows a trial with a high contrast target at the '10:30' position (arrow not present in experiments).

Another tool for the objective assessment of visual contrast sensitivity is the measurement of the pattern electroretinogram (see figure 2). This measurement does not depend on subjective conscious decisions and therefor is an objective marker of visual contrast information processing at the level of the retina.

Figure 2: Illustration oft he measurement oft he ojective retinal signal oft he pattern electroretinogram in response to alternating checkboard stimuli

In precious research we were able to show that reduced contrast gain at the level of the retina distinguished depressed patients form healthy controls with high sensitivity and specificity. Also we were able to show that this signal normalized following remission from depression. Thus altered contrast processing at the level of the retina might be a biomarker (state marker) of depressive states in humans. Presently our research group concentrates on studying the specificity of this signal across different neuropsychiatric disorders (ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism) and in response to different therapeutic interventions (medication, psychotherapy, ECT etc.).

Research projects

Recently completed:

  • Assessment of contrast perception employing pattern-VEP in depression
  • Assessment of contrast perception employing pattern-VEP in depression after remission
  • Assessment of contrast perception employing pattern-ERG and -VEP in ADHD and high functioning autism spectrum disorder


  • Replication of our findings in depression
  • Specificity studies with respect to schizophrenia
  • Assessment of the dynamics of the signal after pharmacotherapy and ECT
  • Assessment of the dynamics of the signal after pharmacotherapy in ADHD

Planned Projects:


  • pERG in depression and circadian rhythms


  • Effect of nicotine on contrast perception
  • Effect of methylphenidate on contrast perception


  • Prof. Michael Bach Leiter der Sektion Funktionelle Sehforschung der Universitäts Augenklinik Freiburg
  • Prof. Mark Greenlee Leiter des Institutes für experimentelle Psychologie der Universität Regensburg

Selected publications

  • Ebert D, Feistel H, Kaschka W, Barocka A, Pirner A (1994) Single photon emission computerized tomography assessment of cerebral dopamine D2 receptor blockade in depression before and after sleep deprivation--preliminary results. Biol.Psychiatry 35:880–885.
  • Tebartz van Elst L, Greenlee MW, Foley JM, Lucking CH (1997) Contrast detection, discrimination and adaptation in patients with Parkinson’s disease and multiple system atrophy. Brain 120 ( Pt 12):2219–2228.
  • Bubl E, Tebartz Van Elst L, Gondan M, Ebert D, Greenlee MW (2009) Vision in depressive disorder. World J. Biol. Psychiatry 10:377–384.
  • Bubl E, Kern E, Ebert D, Bach M, Tebartz van Elst L (2010) Seeing gray when feeling blue? Depression can be measured in the eye of the diseased. Biol. Psychiatry 68:205–208.
  • Bubl E, Ebert D, Kern E, Van Elst LT, Bach M (2012) Effect of antidepressive therapy on retinal contrast processing in depressive disorder. Br J Psychiatry 201:151–158.

Klinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie

Hauptstraße 5
79104 Freiburg

Information: 0761 270-65010

Aktuelle Weiterbildung

PPA-Symposium 19.09.2020 "Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie – aktuell" (Save the Date)