Prof. Dr. Thomas Wolbers

Prof. Dr. Thomas Wolbers

Group Leader

German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)
Leipziger Str. 44 / Haus 64
39120 Magdeburg

thomas.wolbers(at)dzne.de
+49 (0) 391 / 67-24511
+49 (0) 391 / 67-24528

Group Members

Name Phone Fax
Skadi Meister, Assistant (during parental leave of Fr. Kirmeß) +49 (0) 391 / 67-24519 +49 (0) 391 / 67-24528
Anett Kirmeß, Assistant +49 (0) 391 / 67-24519 +49 (0) 391 / 67-24528
Esther Kühn, Postdoc +49 (0) 391 / 67-24612 +49 (0) 391 / 67-24528
Jonathan Shine, Postdoc +49 (0) 391 / 67-24587 +49 (0) 391 / 67-24528
José Valdes Herrera, Ph.D. Student +49 (0) 391 / 67-24590 +49 (0) 391 / 67-24528
Lorelei Howard, Postdoc +49 (0) 391 / 67-24508 +49 (0) 391 / 67-24528
Maayan Merhav, Postdoc +49 (0) 391 / 67-24585 +49 (0) 391 / 67-24528
Mario Perez, Ph.D. Student +49 (0) 391 / 67-24566 +49 (0) 391 / 67-24528
Martin Riemer, Postdoc +49 (0) 391 / 67-24582 +49 (0) 391 / 67-24528
Matthias Stangl, Ph.D. Student +49 (0) 391 / 67-24520 +49 (0) 391 / 67-24528
Nadine Diersch, Postdoc +49 (0) 391 / 67-24586 +49 (0) 391 / 67-24528
Paula Vieweg, Ph.D. Student +49 (0) 391 / 67-24507 +49 (0) 391 / 67-24528
Sebastian Weiß, Research Associate +49 (0) 391 / 67-24502 +49 (0) 391 / 67-24528
Xiaoli Chen, Postdoc +49 (0) 391 / 67-24562 +49 (0) 391 / 67-24528
Research Associates
Frieda Born
Jan Oltmer
Johannes Achtzehn
Judith Siegel
Sabine Liebau
Svende Kübler, Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin +49 (0) 391 / 67-24502 +49 (0) 391 / 67-24528
Further group members (Third party funding)
Ruojing Zhou, Postdoc
Rebecca-Sandra Korn, Research Assistant

Key publications

Ageing effects on path integration and landmark navigation.

Harris, M.A. & Wolbers, T. (2012). Hippocampus. 2012 Aug;22(8):1770-80. doi: 10.1002/hipo.22011. Epub 2012 Mar 19.

Modality-independent coding of spatial layout in the human brain.

Wolbers T.; Klatzky R. L.; Loomis J. M.; Wutte M. G. & Giudice N. A. (2011). Current Biology, 21(11): 984-989.

What determines our navigational abilities?

Wolbers, T.; Hegarty, M. (2010). Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14(3), 138-146.

Spatial updating: how the brain keeps track of changing object locations during observer motion.

Wolbers, T.; Hegarty, M.; Büchel, C. & Loomis, J.M. (2008). Nature Neuroscience, 11(10), 1223-1230.

Differential recruitment of the hippocampus, medial prefrontal cortex and the human motion complex during path integration in humans.

Wolbers, T.; Wiener, J.M.; Mallot, H.A. & Büchel, C. (2007). Journal of Neuroscience, 27(35), 9408-9416.

Dissociable retrosplenial and hippocampal contributions to successful formation of survey representations.

Wolbers, T. & Büchel, C. (2005). Journal of Neuroscience, 25(13), 3333-3340.

Further Publications

Cardiovascular Fitness Modulates Brain Activation During Successful Spatial Navigation.

Holzschneider, K.; Wolbers, T.; Roeder, B. & Hoetting, K. (2012). NeuroImage, 59(3):3003-14.

Physiological signal variability in hMT+ reflects performance on a direction discrimination task.

Wutte M.G.; Smith M.T.; Flanagin V. & Wolbers T. (2011). Front. Psychology 2(185).

Decoding the direction of auditory motion from hMT+ activity in blind humans.

Wolbers, T.; Zahorik, P & Giudice, N. A. (2011). NeuroImage, Special Issue on Multivariate Decoding and Brain Reading, 56: 681-687.

Dissociable cognitive mechanisms underlying human path integration.

Wiener, J.; Berthoz, A. & Wolbers T. (2011). Experimental Brain Research, 208(1):61-71.

Rotated alphanumeric characters do not automatically activate frontoparietal areas subserving mental rotation.

Weiss, M.; Wolbers, T.; Peller, M.; Witt, K.; Marshall, L.; Büchel, C. & Siebner, H. (2009). NeuroImage. 44(3), 1063-73.

Neural dynamics of learning sound-action associations.

McNamara, A.; Buccino, G.; Menz, M.; Gläscher, J.; Wolbers, T.; Baumgärtner, A. & Binkofski, F. (2008). PLoS ONE, 3(12), e3845.

Changes in connectivity profiles as a mechanism for strategic control over interfering subliminal information.

Wolbers, T.; Schoell, E.; Verleger, R.; Kraft, S.; McNamara, A.; Jaskowski, P. & Büchel, C. (2006). Cerebral Cortex, 16, 857-864.

Implementation of spatial cues into the volitional selection of action.

van Eimeren, T.; Wolbers, T.; Münchau, A.; Büchel, C.; Weiller, C. & Siebner, H. (2006). NeuroImage, 29(1), 286-294.

The predictive value of white matter organization in posterior parietal cortex for spatial visualization ability.

Wolbers, T.; Schoell, E. & Büchel, C. (2006). NeuroImage, 32(3), 1450-1455.

Hippocampus activation differentiates good from poor learners of a novel lexicon.

Breitenstein, C.; Jansen, A.; Deppe, M.; Foerster, A.F.; Sommer, J.; Wolbers, T. & Knecht, S. (2005). NeuroImage, 25(3), 958-968.

Dissociable contributions within the medial temporal lobe to encoding of object-location associations.

Sommer, T.; Rose, M., Gläscher, J.; Wolbers, T. & Büchel, C. (2005). Learning and Memory, 12(3), 343-351.

Interaktive Fahrsimulation zur Diagnose und Rehabilitation der Fahreignung.

Wolbers, T. (2004). In C. Dettmers & C. Weiller (Eds.), Fahreignung bei neurologischen Erkrankungen (pp. 32-35). Bad Honnef: Hippocampus Verlag.

Neural foundations of emerging route knowledge in complex spatial environments.

Wolbers, T.; Weiller, C. & Büchel, C. (2004). Cognitive Brain Research, 21, 401-411.

Contralateral coding of imagined body parts in the superior parietal lobe.

Wolbers, T.; Weiller, C. & Büchel, C. (2003). Cerebral Cortex, 13, 392-399.

Interaktive Fahrsimulation zur Diagnose und Rehabilitation der Fahreignung.

Wolbers, T. (2001). Neurologie & Rehabilitation, 7(5), 252-253.

Hemianopsia and driving. 

Netz, J. & Wolbers, T. (2001). Europa Medicophysica, 4, 275-278.

Interaktive Fahrsimulation – ein neuer Weg zur Diagnose und Rehabilitation der Fahrtauglichkeit.

Wolbers, T.; Küst, J.; Karbe, H.; Netz, J.; Hömberg, V. (2001). Die Rehabilitation, 40, 87-91. 

The complete list of publications is found here.

To top

Curriculum Vitae

Thomas Wolbers received his degree in Psychology from the University of Hamburg in 1999, followed by a PhD at the Department of Systems Neuroscience. For his postdoctoral training at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), he received a Marie Curie fellowship from the EU. His work at UCSB focused on the neuronal foundations of navigational processing, for which he was awarded the prestigious Harvey L. Karp Discovery Award. In 2009, he took a position as Senior Lecturer at the renowned Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems at the University of Edinburgh, headed by Prof. Richard Morris. In addition, he was a member of the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, which promoted his research on age-related changes in navigational abilities.

Since June 2012, he is a Professor for Ageing & Cognition at the DZNE in Magdeburg. His research program aims to characterize mechanisms of normal and pathological aging in those brain structures that are key for spatial navigation. Furthermore, he conducts intervention studies to probe the plasticity of these structures in old age and to evaluate the efficacy of novel therapeutic approaches.


Areas of investigation/research focus

Fig. 1: Experimental paradigm to measure navigational learning. Participants are navigating in a virtual environment and are required to learn the spatial locations of twelve distinct buildings relative to each other. Source: T. Wolbers
Fig. 1: Experimental paradigm to measure navigational learning. Participants are navigating in a virtual environment and are required to learn the spatial locations of twelve distinct buildings relative to each other. Source: T. WolbersClick on the magnifying glass for a large image.

Decades of psychological and neuroscience research have carefully shown how cognitive functions such as memory, reasoning ability and processing speed change during healthy aging and in patients suffering from dementia disorders. However, one key cognitive ability that is particularly relevant to everyday functioning has received very little attention: Elderly people often report substantial declines in navigational abilities, for example everyday problems with finding one’s way in complex environments, planning routes to distant locations and returning to the car after a trip to the supermarket. Such problems severely restrict the mobility of elderly people and patients with dementia disorders, which in turn affects (physical) activity and social participation.

Fig. 2: Activation in the hippocampus (left) and in the retrosplenial cortex (right) as measured with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). Both structures perform essential computations for spatial navigation, and both are highly susceptible to the aging process. As a consequence, processes that depend on both structures can be used to detect pathological decline and to evaluate therapeutic interventions. Source: T. Wolbers
Fig. 2: Activation in the hippocampus (left) and in the retrosplenial cortex (right) as measured with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). Both structures perform essential computations for spatial navigation, and both are highly susceptible to tClick on the magnifying glass for a large image.

At present, the precise navigational impairments experienced by the elderly – and the underlying neuronal mechanisms – are poorly understood. This situation is particularly unfortunate, because in non-human species, declines in navigational computations have been identified as hallmarks of cognitive aging and are among the earliest indicators of dementia disorders.  In addition, spatial navigation relies on a network of brain structures (i.e. entorhinal cortex) that are particularly sensitive to the aging process. As a consequence, changes in this network could prove highly valuable for (i) the development of functional biomarkers for impending pathological decline and (ii) to monitor the efficiency of therapeutic interventions.

To address these pressing issues, the research program of the Aging & Cognition Research Group:

  • takes a novel approach to cognitive ageing that (i) is deeply rooted in animal neurobiology and (ii) aims to uncover the mechanisms that mediate changes in navigational processing in normal and pathological aging on humans
  • employs an interdisciplinary approach by combining electrophysiology, ultra high field brain imaging and innovative data analysis techniques with cutting-edge virtual environment technology
  • conducts translational projects that aim to improve spatial mnemonic functioning with behavioral interventions. Importantly, these interventions could also be beneficial for cognitive functions beyond the spatial domain, thus providing a comprehensive test of functional relevance and societal impact. 

For further reading please visit also: www.wolberslab.net