Mapping fundamental brain functions

Evaluating options and making decisions are two of the brain’s most fundamental functions in all animals. Konstantinos Meletis studies brain processes, using new technologies to understand how this works.

Konstantinos Meletis
Konstantinos Meletis is a professor of systemneuroscience. Photo: Stefan Zimmerman.

What are you researching?

“I’m doing research to understand basic functions of the brain: how neurons and neuronal circuits create behaviour that are central to life and health. Our brains evaluate different action options and make decisions the whole time, usually unconsciously. It’s a complex process that involves motivation, learning, the creation of internal models of reality and the ability to predict, make decisions and evaluate. We’ve only just begun to understand the biological mechanisms of all this.”

What does your research involve?

“We work mainly with mice in various types of behavioural experiment since we’re looking at extremely fundamental functions that are similar across all species. New techniques have been developed over the past ten or fifteen years that give us novel opportunities to study brain processes in many measurement points at the same time, and even manipulate brain activity. One such technique is optogenetics, which I learnt as a postdoc researcher at MIT and since then have used a lot in my lab at KI. We’re also using new methods to make extensive maps of brain structure. One example is a 3-D molecular map of the mouse brain, which is based on analyses of RNA in 35,000 regions. We were able to identify around 200 different brain regions, some of which were previously unknown. Some of these structures we will now be mapping at a higher resolution.”

What do you hope to achieve?

“I think it would be wonderful if we could one day explain how the brain works. What a feat it would be for the human brain to understand itself! I’m also convinced that this curiosity about basic mechanisms is the best route to clinical progress. Understanding the biology behind mental illness will help enable us to develop effective treatments. The brain systems we’re focusing most on are linked to things like affective diseases, addiction and autism.”

Konstantinos Meletis

Professor of System Neuroscience at the Department of Neuroscience

Konstantinos Meletis was born in Stockholm in 1977 and studied at KI, earning a degree in biomedicine in 2000. He obtained his PhD in 2006, and from 2007 to 2010 was a postdoc researcher at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, MIT, Cambridge, USA. Since 2011 he has been heading up a research group at KI. He was made docent in 2015.

Meletis was awarded the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research’s Future Research Leaders grant in 2013 and the Swedish Research Council’s Consolidator Grant in 2018. He is chair of KI’s neuroscience network and, since 2019, a member of the Faculty Board’s Committee for Research.

Konstantinos Meletis was appointed Professor of System Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet on 1 March 2021.

Text: Anders Nilsson
First published in the booklet From Cell to Society 2021