Research in Prof. Zupanc’s laboratory focuses on the exploration of neural mechanisms underlying structural plasticity in the adult central nervous system of vertebrates. In particular, he is interested in the generation of new neurons in the adult brain and spinal cord (‘adult neurogenesis’) and in the replacement of neurons damaged through injury by newly generated ones (‘neuronal regeneration’).
His investigations are carried out in teleost fish, as these vertebrates – very much in contrast to mammals – exhibit an enormous potential to generate new neurons in both the intact and the injured central nervous system during adulthood. By combining cellular, neuroanatomical, neurophysiological, and behavioral approaches, he and his group attempt to identify key mechanisms underlying this production of new neurons, and to learn more about the behavioral consequences of the resulting structural dynamics of neural networks.
The ultimate goal of Prof. Zupanc’s research is to understand the evolutionary factors that have led to the enormous reduction of the neurogenic potential in mammals, while maintaining the generation of new neurons at high levels in the central nervous system of many non-mammalian taxa. Such a comparative approach will not only be essential to gain a biological understanding of adult neurogenesis, but also bears an enormous potential to open new vistas for the development of novel therapeutic strategies to replace neurons lost to injury or degenerative disease by newly generated ones.