Information for Researchers, No. 35 | May 10, 2022

Priority Programme “Sensing LOOPS: Cortico-subcortical Interactions for Adaptive Sensing” (SPP 2411)

In spring 2022 the Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) established the Priority Programme “Sensing LOOPS: Cortico-subcortical Interactions for Adaptive Sensing” (SPP 2411). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the first three-year funding period.

Our brain perceives the world dynamically, zooming in on relevant stimuli and fading out irrelevant ones, generating biased moment-to-moment snapshots of reality. This “adaptive sensing” of the world is at the essence of the flexibility that has allowed mammals to flourish in varying environmental conditions. Adaptive sensing depends on the interaction between incoming sensory input and the feedback that can modulate it, in other words, it depends on a processing loop. Anatomists have known of feedback projections for decades. These projections often arise in the cortex and innervate numerous subcortical nuclei at various levels of sensory processing, creating cortico-subcortical loops. And yet, we continue to view sensory processing as a feedforward transformation of information. Feedforward networks, however, fail to capture the high proficiency of mammalian brains to flexibly and adaptively interpret a complex world, according to current needs and previous experience. The core aim of this Priority Programme is to provide a deeper understanding of the functional role of cortico-subcortical loops in adaptive sensing, across modalities and in behaving animals, and to revisit the role of subcortical structures classically regarded as “relay” stations.

We invite research proposals with an emphasis on the dynamics of cortico-subcortical loops during active behaviour that address, in a single sensory modality or multiple sensory modalities, one or more of the following fundamental research areas from an experimental and/or computational perspective.

Theme A: The role of corticofugal feedback in context-dependent sensory processing.
Here, context refers to sensory (background, noise) or behavioural (task, state) conditions.

Theme B: The role of corticofugal feedback during prediction and attention. Research in
this theme will revolve around sensory inference or sensorimotor predictions, and top-down selective attention.

Theme C: The role of corticofugal feedback during learning. Research in this theme will
probe the plasticity of corticofugal and subcortical structures during learning, and study
processes related to stimulus-stimulus or stimulus-outcome associations.

Several techniques and experimental approaches will be suitable to perform research in these themes. Examples include 1) genetic tools and transgenic lines to target specific cell types and/or projections for manipulations and functional sampling of neuronal activity, 2) imaging or electrophysiological recordings that allow en masse simultaneous sampling of brain activity, and/or 3) automated quantitative characterisation of behaviour.

The following criteria are necessary for inclusion of projects in the selection process. Applying projects must:

  • study or model the function of mammalian corticofugal connections with the goal of characterising the impact of such input on subcortical sensory structures,
  • measure or model neuronal activity on a microcircuit level in awake mammals,
  • study or model the dynamics of cortico-subcortical loops according to one or more of the three themes suggested: context-dependency, prediction and attention, learning and plasticity,
  • simultaneously probe or model activity in two or more interacting cortico-subcortical structures, where at least one is a sensory structure,
  • study or model circuit function through behavioural or neural activity manipulations,
  • have a clear plan for sharing data, analysis software and models.

We additionally encourage applications for projects which explicitly (collaboration/tandem) or conceptually:

  • foster close interaction of experimental research performed in different sensory systems within the programme,
  • foster close interaction of experimental and theoretical/computational research within the programme.

We discourage applications for projects which:

  • are not focused on the topic of cortico-subcortical interactions as described above,
  • aim at anatomical characterisations of the circuit without functional measurements of brain activity,
  • probe activity only from a single structure without sampling/manipulating a second brain area,
  • focus on disease mechanisms or knock-out animals,
  • focus on the role of cortico-subcortical circuits outside sensory/perceptual processing,
  • have a pure computational/theoretical focus without concrete modelling of experimental data or without the aim of providing mechanistic insight into cortico-subcortical information processing,
  • work on non-mammalian model systems.

More information on the vision of the Priority Programme and details on the selection process can be found on the programmes’s website (see link below).

Proposals must be written in English and submitted to the DFG by 28 September 2022. Please note that proposals can only be submitted via elan, the DFG’s electronic proposal processing system. To enter a new project within the existing Priority Programme, go to Proposal Submission – New Project/Draft Proposal – Priority Programmes and select “SPP 2411” from the current list of calls.
In preparing your proposal, please review the programme guidelines (form 50.05, section B) and follow the proposal preparation instructions (form 54.01). These forms can either be downloaded from our website or accessed through the elan portal.

Applicants must be registered in elan prior to submitting a proposal to the DFG. If you have not yet registered, please note that you must do so by 16 September 2022 to submit a proposal under this call; registration requests received after this time cannot be considered. You will normally receive confirmation of your registration by the next working day. Note that you will be asked to select the appropriate Priority Programme call during both the registration and the proposal process.

Further Information

More information on the Priority Programme is available under:

The elan system can be accessed at:

DFG forms 50.05 and 54.01 can be downloaded at:

For scientific enquiries please contact the Priority Programme coordinator:

  • Dr. Livia de Hoz
    Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
    Campus Charité Mitte
    Neurowissenschaftliches Forschungszentrum
    Charitéplatz 1
    10117 Berlin
    phone +49 30 450 539 764

Questions on the DFG proposal process can be directed to:

Programme contact:

Administrative contact: