Jakob von Trotha

Jakob von Trotha
Bildnachweis: Jakob von Trotha/TU Braunschweig
  • E-Mail:   j.von-trotha[at]tu-braunschweig.de

  • Telefon: +49 (0) 531 391 5723

  • Telefax: +49 (0) 531 391 8178

  • Anschrift:

    TU Braunschweig
    Zoologisches Institut
    Zelluläre und Molekulare Neurobiologie
    Spielmannstr. 7
    38106 Braunschweig

Emotions and motivated behavior in zebrafish

How does the brain encode positive and negative emotions, such as happiness and fear? How do emotional states inform behavioral output? How are cognitive processes such as learning and memory influenced by emotional biases?

We are investigating these questions in the zebrafish (Danio rerio) using a variety of imaging, behavioral, genetic, computational, and molecular biological techniques. One of the many beauties of the zebrafish is its optical translucency during the larval stages that together with its comparatively small vertebrate brain makes it possible to observe neural activity with single-cell resolution throughout the whole brain in real time (Ahrens et al., 2013; Vanwalleghem et al., 2018). We can now see how the fish thinks (but we are just beginning to make sense of the emerging data). Furthermore, we can learn about brain function through direct interrogations of specific neural circuits.

Bildnachweis: Jakob von Trotha/TU Braunschweig

Previously, we have shown in adult zebrafish that the dorsomedial telencephalic region (Dm) is activated by a psychostimulant and involved in goal-directed behavior (von Trotha et al., 2014). Together with others this has led to the proposition that Dm in zebrafish is homologous to the mammalian amygdala, a brain region well-known for its role in emotional behaviors (Portavella et al., 2004; Wullimann & Mueller, 2004; Northcutt, 2006; von Trotha et al., 2014; Lal et al., 2018).

Our current research builds on this work that has laid the foundation for a molecular genetic dissection of the neural circuits mediating emotions and motivated behavior (Guo et al., 2012; Perathoner et al., 2016; Lal et al., 2018). More recently, we have developed a microfluidic device that is compatible with whole-brain in vivo imaging via light sheet microscopy (Mattern et al., 2020). In addition to fundamental insights into brain function, this research may ultimately also contribute to novel and better treatments of neuropsychiatric disorders in humans such as depression, anxiety, and drug addiction.

If you are keen in participating in this research as a Bachelor, Master, PhD student, postdoctoral researcher, or otherwise, I am happy to hear from you at:   j.von-trotha[at]tu-braunschweig.de

Work experience

Since 2016
Technical University of Braunschweig, Germany
Zoological Institute
Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology
Research Fellow

French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS)
Institute of Neurobiology Alfred Fessard, Gif-sur-Yvette, France
Advisor: Laure Bally-Cuif


University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
PhD in Neuroscience
Advisor: Andrea Brand

University of Cologne, Germany
Diploma (equivalent M.Sc.) in Biology and Philosophy
Advisor: José Campos-Ortega

University of Zürich, Switzerland
Studies in Biology and Philosophy

University of Tübingen, Germany
Vordiplom (equivalent B.Sc.)
Studies in Biology and Philosophy


2006-2009 PhD scholarship of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)


Mattern, K.*, von Trotha, J.W.*, Erfle, P., Köster, R.W., & Dietzel, A. (2020). NeuroExaminer: an all-glass microfluidic device for whole-brain in vivo imaging in zebrafish. Commun Biology, 3, 311. DOI: 10.1038/s42003-020-1029-7
*equal contribution
see also press release (in German)

von Trotha, J.W., Vernier, P., and Bally-Cuif, L. (2014). Emotions and motivated behavior converge on an amygdala-like structure in the zebrafish. Eur J Neurosci 40, 3302-3315. DOI: 10.1111/ejn.12692

von Trotha, J.W., Egger, B., and Brand, A.H. (2009). Cell proliferation in the Drosophila adult brain revealed by clonal analysis and bromodeoxyuridine labelling. Neural Dev 4, 9. DOI: 10.1186/1749-8104-4-9

von Trotha, J.W., Campos-Ortega, J., and Reugels, A. (2006). Apical localization of ASIP/PAR-3:EGFP in zebrafish neuroepithelial cells involves the oligomerization domain CR1, the PDZ domains, and the C-terminal portion of the protein. Dev Dyn 235, 967-77. DOI: 10.1002/dvdy.20715



Ahrens, M.B., Orger, M.B., Robson, D.N., Li, J.M., & Keller, P.J. (2013) Whole-brain functional imaging at cellular resolution using light-sheet microscopy. Nature Methods, 10, 413–420. DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.2434

Guo, S., Wagle, M., & Mathur, P. (2012) Toward molecular genetic dissection of neural circuits for emotional and motivational behaviors. Developmental neurobiology, 72, 358–365. DOI: 10.1002/dneu.20927

Lal, P., Tanabe, H., Suster, M.L., Ailani, D., Kotani, Y., Muto, A., Itoh, M., Iwasaki, M., Wada, H., Yaksi, E., & Kawakami, K. (2018) Identification of a neuronal population in the telencephalon essential for fear conditioning in zebrafish. BMC biology, 16, 45. DOI: 10.1186/s12915-018-0502-y

Mattern, K., von Trotha, J.W., Erfle, P., Köster, R.W., & Dietzel, A. (2020) NeuroExaminer: an all-glass microfluidic device for whole-brain in vivo imaging in zebrafish. Commun Biology, 3, 311. DOI: 10.1038/s42003-020-1029-7

Northcutt, R.G. (2006) Connections of the lateral and medial divisions of the goldfish telencephalic pallium. The Journal of comparative neurology, 494, 903–943. DOI: 10.1002/cne.20853

Perathoner, S., Cordero-Maldonado, M.L., & Crawford, A.D. (2016) Potential of zebrafish as a model for exploring the role of the amygdala in emotional memory and motivational behavior. J Neurosci Res, 94, 445–462. DOI: 10.1002/jnr.23712

Portavella, M., Torres, B., & Salas, C. (2004) Avoidance response in goldfish: emotional and temporal involvement of medial and lateral telencephalic pallium. The Journal of neuroscience: the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 24, 2335–2342. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4930-03.2004

Vanwalleghem, G.C., Ahrens, M.B., & Scott, E.K. (2018) Integrative whole-brain neuroscience in larval zebrafish. Current opinion in neurobiology, 50, 136–145. DOI: 10.1016/j.conb.2018.02.004

von Trotha, J.W., Vernier, P., & Bally-Cuif, L. (2014) Emotions and motivated behavior converge on an amygdala-like structure in the zebrafish. The European journal of neuroscience, 40, 3302–3315. DOI: 10.1111/ejn.12692

Wullimann, M.F. & Mueller, T. (2004) Teleostean and mammalian forebrains contrasted: Evidence from genes to behavior. The Journal of comparative neurology, 475, 143–162. DOI: 10.1002/cne.20183