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Detlef Heck, PhD

Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center
855 Monroe Avenue, Suite 515
Memphis, TN 38163
Phone: 901.448.1678
Fax: 901.448.7193
Lab: 405 Wittenborg Anatomy Building
Email: Detlef Heck


  • PhD Institution: The University of Tübingen, Germany and Max-Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tübingen
  • Postdoctoral: Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tübingen; Friedrich Miescher Laboratory of the Max-Planck Society, Tübingen; Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO

Research Interests

Structure and function of the cerebellar cortical network, cerebro-cerebellar interaction, neuronal mechanisms of motor control, dynamics of neuronal communication during behavior.

Many areas of the brain collaborate in a finely tuned manner in the control of behavior. The neocortex and the cerebellum are two key players in this concert. They are strongly connected via massive fiber bundles and have both grown equally in size during the course of vertebrate evolution. The network architectures of these two closely collaborating networks, however, are fundamentally different. For example, the neocortical network contains abundant excitatory feedback loops and the connectivity between neurons appears to be random. In contrast to this, the cerebellar cortical network has neurons and fibers arranged in a highly geometrical way. Excitatory and inhibitory fibers are nicely separated and run in orthogonal directions. There is no significant excitatory feedback. Cerebro-cerebellar communication occurs via intermediary nuclei. Output from the neocortex is relayed to the cerebellum via neurons in the pontine nuclei and cerebellar output reaches the neocortex via thalamus.

The essential structural differences between the neocortical and the cerebellar cortical network suggest that the two perform entirely different computations. I am interested in understanding what neuronal computations the cerebellum performs and how it exchanges information with the neocortex during the control of behavior. To address these questions I investigate neuronal communication within and between neocortex and cerebellum in two ways: 1) Multiple-electrode recording techniques including simultaneous recordings from neocortex and cerebellum during behavior are combined with behavioral analysis to link neuronal mechanisms to behavioral output, 2) Simultaneous multiple-electrode extra and intracellular recordings provide insights into the highly dynamic interaction between individual pairs of neurons and between single neurons and their surrounding network.

Representative Publications

  • Allen M, Varga S, Heck DH (2022) Respiratory Rhythm of the Predictive Mind. Psychological Review (Online ahead of print)
  • Heck DH, Varga S (2022) Cerebral Cortex: The Great Mixing Machine. European J. Physiology (invited review, Online ahead of print).
  • Heck DH, Correia BL, Fox MB, Liu L, Allen M, Varga S (2022) Recent insights into respiratory modulation of brain activity offer new perspectives on cognition and emotion. Biological Psychology, Invited Review, Volume 170, April 2022, 108316
  • Liu Y, McAfee SS, Van Der Heijden ME, Dhamala M, Sillitoe RV, Heck DH (2022) Causal evidence for a cerebellar role in prefrontal-hippocampal interaction in spatial working memory decision-making, The Cerebellum doi: 10.1007/s12311-022-01383-7. (e-pub ahead of print)
  • McAfee SS, Liu Y, Sillitoe RV, Heck DH (2022) Cerebellar coordination of neuronal communication in the cerebral cortex. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience 15:781527. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2021.781527.
  • Taylor AP, Goedecke PJ, Tolley EA, Lee AS, Joyner AL, Heck DH (2022) Conditional loss of Engrailed1/2 in Atoh1-derived excitatory cerebellar nuclear neurons impairs eupneic respiration in mice. Genes, Brain and Behavior 21(2):e12788. doi: 10.1111/gbb.12788
  • Liu Y, Qi S, Thomas F, Correia BL, Taylor AP, Sillitoe RV, Heck DH (2020) Loss of cerebellar function selectively affects intrinsic rhythmicity of eupneic breathing. Biology Open 9(4)

View more references (pubmed link)

Aug 26, 2022