Robin Wagener

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Dr. med. Robin Wagener
Location Geneva
Position Postdoc
Tel. +41-(0)223795873

Research Overview

    • Organization and function of the primary somatosensory 'barrel' cortex and its subunits in the absence of laminar organization of the neocortex.
      The main unit of the barrel cortex is a columnar module, i.e. 'barrel related column'. It displays the vertical organization of the cortex. However, the cortex also shows a horizontal compartmentalization consequently it is organized into (at least) 6 cortical layers. The cells of these layers are interconnected in a complex pattern, building the core network for conscious sensory information processing.
      The relevance of the correct vertical position of a neuron for its integration into cortical networks is unknown. Moreover, it even is unknown if complex cortical networks can develop in the absence of cortical lamination.
      To answer such questions, we are examining the primary somatosensory cortex of the reeler mutant, a mouse model with complete disorganization of the cortical lamination pattern.
      Furthermore, we are interested in thalamocortical targeting in this mouse model. We try to understand if (and why) an intact thalamic input is able to connect to its proper targets even if they are found in ectopic positions.


    • 2017
    • TRPV1 regulates excitatory innervation of OLM neurons in the hippocampus.
      Hurtado-Zavala,J.I.; Ramachandran,B.; Ahmed,S.; Halder,R.; Bolleyer,C.; Awasthi,A.; Stahlberg,M.A.; Wagener,R.J.; Anderson,K.; Drenan,R.M.; Lester,H.A.; Miwa,J.M.; Staiger,J.F.; Fischer,A.; Dean,C..
      Nature Communications 8:15878, 2017. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15878
      abstract link

      TRPV1 is an ion channel activated by heat and pungent agents including capsaicin, and has been extensively studied in nociception of sensory neurons. However, the location and function of TRPV1 in the hippocampus is debated. We found that TRPV1 is expressed in oriens-lacunosum-moleculare (OLM) interneurons in the hippocampus, and promotes excitatory innervation. TRPV1 knockout mice have reduced glutamatergic innervation of OLM neurons. When activated by capsaicin, TRPV1 recruits more glutamatergic, but not GABAergic, terminals to OLM neurons in vitro. When TRPV1 is blocked, glutamatergic input to OLM neurons is dramatically reduced. Heterologous expression of TRPV1 also increases excitatory innervation. Moreover, TRPV1 knockouts have reduced Schaffer collateral LTP, which is rescued by activating OLM neurons with nicotine—via α2β2-containing nicotinic receptors—to bypass innervation defects. Our results reveal a synaptogenic function of TRPV1 in a specific interneuron population in the hippocampus, where it is important for gating hippocampal plasticity.

    • 2016
    • Intracortical Network Effects Preserve Thalamocortical Input Efficacy in a Cortex Without Layers.
      Guy,J.; Sachkova,A.; Möck,M.; Witte,M.; Wagener,R.J.; Staiger,J.F..
      Cerebral Cortex DOI 10.1093/cercor/bhw281, 2016.

      Layer IV (LIV) of the rodent somatosensory cortex contains the somatotopic barrel field. Barrels receive much of the sensory input to the cortex through innervation by thalamocortical axons from the ventral posteromedial nucleus. In the reeler mouse, the absence of cortical layers results in the formation of mispositioned barrel-equivalent clusters of LIV fated neurons. Although functional imaging suggests that sensory input activates the cortex, little is known about the cellular and synaptic properties of identified excitatory neurons of the reeler cortex. We examined the properties of thalamic input to spiny stellate (SpS) neurons in the reeler cortex with in vitro electrophysiology, optogenetics, and subcellular channelrhodopsin-2-assisted circuit mapping (sCRACM). Our results indicate that reeler SpS neurons receive direct but weakened input from the thalamus, with a dispersed spatial distribution along the somatodendritic arbor. These results further document subtle alterations in functional connectivity concomitant of absent layering in the reeler mutant. We suggest that intracortical amplification mechanisms compensate for this weakening in order to allow reliable sensory transmission to the mutant neocortex

    • Parvalbumin- and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide-expressing neocortical interneurons impose differential inhibition on Martinotti cells.
      Walker F, Möck M, Feyerabend M, Guy J, Wagener RJ, Schubert D, Staiger JF, Witte M.
      Nature Comunications 7:13664 (DOI: 10.1038/ncomms13664, 2016.
      abstract link

      Disinhibition of cortical excitatory cell gate information flow through and between corticalcolumns. The major contribution of Martinotti cells (MC) is providing dendritic inhibition toexcitatory neurons and therefore they are a main component of disinhibitory connections.Here we show by means of optogenetics that MC in layers II/III of the mouse primarysomatosensory cortex are inhibited by both parvalbumin (PV)- and vasoactive intestinalpolypeptide (VIP)-expressing cells. Paired recordings revealed stronger synaptic inputonto MC from PV cells than from VIP cells. Moreover, PV cell input showed frequencyindependentdepression, whereas VIP cell input facilitated at high frequencies. Thesedifferences in the properties of the two unitary connections enable disinhibition with distincttemporal features.

    • 2015
    • Thalamocortical Connections Drive Intracortical Activation of Functional Columns in the Mislaminated Reeler Somatosensory Cortex .
      Robin J. Wagener, Mirko Witte, Julien Guy, Nieves Mingo-Moreno, Sebastian Kügler, Jochen F. Staiger.
      Cerebral Cortex, 2015.
      abstract link

      Neuronal wiring is key to proper neural information processing. Tactile information from the rodent's whiskers reaches the cortex via distinct anatomical pathways. The lemniscal pathway relays whisking and touch information from the ventral posteromedial thalamic nucleus to layer IV of the primary somatosensory "barrel" cortex. The disorganized neocortex of the reeler mouse is a model system that should severely compromise the ingrowth of thalamocortical axons (TCAs) into the cortex. Moreover, it could disrupt intracortical wiring. We found that neuronal intermingling within the reeler barrel cortex substantially exceeded previous descriptions, leading to the loss of layers. However, viral tracing revealed that TCAs still specifically targeted transgenically labeled spiny layer IV neurons. Slice electrophysiology and optogenetics proved that these connections represent functional synapses. In addition, we assessed intracortical activation via immediate-early-gene expression resulting from a behavioral exploration task. The cellular composition of activated neuronal ensembles suggests extensive similarities in intracolumnar information processing in the wild-type and reeler brains. We conclude that extensive ectopic positioning of neuronal partners can be compensated for by cell-autonomous mechanisms that allow for the establishment of proper connectivity. Thus, genetic neuronal fate seems to be of greater importance for correct cortical wiring than radial neuronal position.

    • Loss of BAF (mSWI/SNF) complexes causes global transcriptional and chromatin state changes in forebrain development.
      Ramanathan Narayanan, Mehdi Pirouz, Cemil Kerimoglu, Linh Pham, Robin J. Wagener, Kamila A. Kiszka, Joachim Rosenbusch, Michael Kessel, Andre Fischer, Anastassia Stoykova, Jochen F. Staiger, and Tran Tuoc.
      Cell Reports, 2015. 13, 1–13
      abstract link

      BAF (Brg/Brm-associated factors) complexes play important roles in development and are linked to chromatin plasticity at selected genomic loci. Nevertheless, a full understanding of their role in development and chromatin remodeling has been hindered by the absence of mutants completely lacking BAF complexes. Here, we report that the loss of BAF155/BAF170 in double-conditional knock-out (dcKO) mice eliminates all known BAF subunits, resulting in an overall reduction in active chromatin marks (H3K9Ac), a global increase in repressive marks (H3K27me2/3), and down-regulation of gene expression. We demonstrate that BAF complexes interact with H3K27 demethylases (JMJD3, UTX) and potentiate their activity. Importantly BAF complexes are indispensable for forebrain development, including proliferation, differentiation and cell survival of neural progenitor cells. Our findings reveal a molecular mechanism mediated by BAF complexes that controls global transcriptional program and chromatin state in development.

    • The disorganized visual cortex in reelin-deficient mice is functional and allows for enhanced plasticity.
      Justyna Pielecka-Fortuna, Robin Jan Wagener, Ann-Kristin Martens, Bianka Goetze, Karl-Friedrich Schmidt, Jochen F. Staiger, Siegrid Löwel.
      Brain Structure and Function; DOI: 10.1007/s00429-014-0866-x, 2015. 220(6):3449-67
      abstract link

      A hallmark of neocortical circuits is the segregation of processing streams into six distinct layers. The importance of this layered organization for cortical processing and plasticity is little understood. We investigated the structure, function and plasticity of primary visual cortex (V1) of adult mice deficient for the glycoprotein reelin and their wild-type littermates. In V1 of rl-/- mice, cells with different laminar fates are present at all cortical depths. Surprisingly, the (vertically) disorganized cortex maintains a precise retinotopic (horizontal) organization. Rl-/- mice have normal basic visual capabilities, but are compromised in more challenging perceptual tasks, such as orientation discrimination. Additionally, rl-/- animals learn and memorize a visual task as well as their wild-type littermates. Interestingly, reelin deficiency enhances visual cortical plasticity: juvenile-like ocular dominance plasticity is preserved into late adulthood. The present data offer an important insight into the capabilities of a disorganized cortical system to maintain basic functional properties.

    • Characterizing VIP Neurons in the Barrel Cortex of VIPcre/tdTomato Mice Reveals Layer-Specific Differences.
      Prönneke A, Scheuer B, Wagener RJ, Möck M, Witte M, and Staiger JF.
      Cereb. Cortex (2015) 25 (12): 4854-4868. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhv202 , 2015.
      abstract pdf link

      Neocortical GABAergic interneurons have a profound impact on cortical circuitry and its information processing capacity. Distinct subgroups of inhibitory interneurons can be distinguished by molecular markers, such as parvalbumin, somatostatin, and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP). Among these, VIP-expressing interneurons sparked a substantial interest since these neurons seem to operate disinhibitory circuit motifs found in all major neocortical areas. Several of these recent studies used transgenic Vip-ires-cre mice to specifically target the population of VIP-expressing interneurons. This makes it necessary to elucidate in detail the sensitivity and specificity of Cre expression for VIP neurons in these animals. Thus, we quantitatively compared endogenous tdTomato with Vip fluorescence in situ hybridization and αVIP immunohistochemistry in the barrel cortex of VIPcre/tdTomato mice in a layer-specific manner. We show that VIPcre/tdTomato mice are highly sensitive and specific for the entire population of VIP-expressing neurons. In the barrel cortex, approximately 13% of all GABAergic neurons are VIP expressing. Most VIP neurons are found in layer II/III (∼60%), whereas approximately 40% are found in the other layers of the barrel cortex. Layer II/III VIP neurons are significantly different from VIP neurons in layers IV-VI in several morphological and membrane properties, which suggest layer-dependent differences in functionality.

    • Persistence of Functional Sensory Maps in the Absence of Cortical Layers in the Somatosensory Cortex of Reeler Mice.
      Guy J, Wagener R, Möck M and Staiger JF.
      Cerebral Cortex; doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhu052, 2015. 25(9):2517-28
      abstract link

      In rodents, layer IV of the primary somatosensory cortex contains the barrel field, where individual, large facial whiskers are represented as a dense cluster of cells. In the reeler mouse, a model of disturbed cortical development characterized by a loss of cortical lamination, the barrel field exists in a distorted manner. Little is known about the consequences of such a highly disturbed lamination on cortical function in this model. We used in vivo intrinsic signal optical imaging together with piezo-controlled whisker stimulation to explore sensory map organization and stimulus representation in the barrel field. We found that the loss of cortical layers in reeler mice had surprisingly little incidence on these properties. The overall topological order of whisker representations is highly preserved and the functional activation of individual whisker representations is similar in size and strength to wild-type controls. Because intrinsic imaging measures hemodynamic signals, we furthermore investigated the cortical blood vessel pattern of both genotypes, where we also did not detect major differences. In summary, the loss of the reelin protein results in a widespread disturbance of cortical development which compromises neither the establishment nor the function of an ordered, somatotopic map of the facial whiskers.

    • 2010
    • The somatosensory cortex of reeler mutant mice shows absent layering but intact formation and behavioral activation of columnar somatotopic maps.
      Wagener RJ, David C, Zhao S, Haas CA, Staiger JF .
      J Neurosci 30:15700-15709, 2010.
      abstract link

      Sensory information acquired via the large facial whiskers is processed and relayed in the whisker-to-barrel pathway, which shows multiple somatotopic maps of the receptor periphery. These maps consist of individual structural modules, the development of which may require intact cortical lamination. In the present study we examined the whisker-to-barrel pathway in the reeler mouse and thus used a model with disturbed cortical organization. A combination of histological (fluorescent Nissl and cytochrome oxidase staining) as well as molecular methods (c-Fos and laminar markers Rgs8, RORB, and ER81 expression) revealed wild type-equivalent modules in reeler. At the neocortical level, however, we found extensive alterations in the layout of the individual modules of the map. Nevertheless, they showed a columnar organization that included compartments equivalent to those of their wild-type counterparts. Moreover, all examined modules showed distinct activation as a consequence of behavioral whisker stimulation. Analysis of the magnitude of the cortical lamination defect surprisingly revealed an extensive disorganization, rather than an inversion, as assumed previously. Striking developmental plasticity of thalamic innervation, as suggested by vGluT2 immunohistochemistry, seems to ensure the proper formation of columnar modules and topological maps even under highly disorganized conditions.