Faculty of Natural
Sciences
Comenius University in Bratislava

Department of Animal Physiology and Ethology

The Department focuses on a systemic and integrative approach to studying physiological and behavioural processes in interaction with environmental factors , with an emphasis on rhythmic changes of the environment. Disruption of these environmental factors appears to be one of the causes of civilization diseases , especially the cardiovascular, neural and gastrointestinal systems. The research of these systems, therefore, determines the chronobiological approach. The key motive is learning about the mechanism of functioning of the biological clock and the transmission of rhythmic signals to individual organ systems and influencing their function.

Another promising area we study at the Department is the study of epigenetic environmental factors , especially maternal influences , for forming the phenotype of an individual. We study this approach in a mammalian model, focusing on the neurobiological aspects underlying the emergence of some neurological disorders (especially depression and autism). In the aviary model, we study the impact of maternal investment on the development and functioning of a coping strategy, or individual strategies, by which animals cope with fluctuations in environmental conditions. We continue to analyze inborn and learned forms of behaviour , as well as its disorders in animals living in zoos.

An integrating aspect is the joint development of physiology and ethology in one workplace, which allows functional and close intertwining of both disciplines with the possibility of developing new knowledge in border areas. Such research will continue to focus on behavioral changes associated with the development of cardiovascular disorders (especially hypertension), as well as neurological disorders up to the onset and progression of tumors .

A good starting point for fulfilling these goals is the existence of mastered and validated techniques for determining the expression of a variety of genes as well as quantification of protein products, especially hormones, by real-time PCR, in situ hybridization, western blot, immunofluorescence, flow fluorescence cytometry and radioimmunoassay . For these methods, the Department has a quality infrastructure (Applied Biosystems Step One PCR System, Accurri C6, Cryostat Zeiss, Zeiss fluorescence microscope, ELISA reader, thermocyclers and a Packard high-quality beta detector at a common radioisotopic workplace). Molecular procedures are applied both at the level of the integrated organism (rat, quail, but also human) and in vitro conditions, while our in vitro laboratory has established cultivation of human umbilical cells as well as stable lines (HeLa, BHK).

For the study of physiological processes, we use modern telemetric monitoring of physiological functions on free-moving animals without direct contact with a human by DataSciences system, for which we are the reference workplace for Central and Eastern Europe. This procedure is suitably combined with ethological tests on devices that we have either designed ourselves or on a commercial system from Experimetria. The advantage of the Department for Development in this regard is its well-functioning contacts and cooperation with several institutes of Slovak Academy of Sciences, with clinical workplaces in Bratislava as well as with many foreign workplaces .