The Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology is a research institute of the Max Planck Society near Munich in Germany. Research centers on the basic mechanisms and functions of the developing and adult nervous system. Main focus areas include the mechanisms of information processing and storage.
The Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology emanated from the Theoretical Institute of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry. In 1998, the Theoretical and the Clinical parts of this institute segregated and the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology became an independent institute. The institute moved in 1984 to Martinsried (Planegg), southwest of Munich.
Scientific research at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology is grouped into four departments and seven junior research groups. Numerous thematic connections between the groups result in a multitude of interactions and joint projects. About one third of the approximately 250 members of the institute come from abroad.
The department Cellular and Systems Neurobiology, led by Professor Tobias Bonhoeffer pursues the question “what happens, when the brain learns?”. Unlike a static object, the structure of the brain constantly changes according to current requirements. For example, in order to learn something, the contact between single nerve cells needs to be strengthened. This is accomplished in part through the creation of new contact sites and their information-transmission sites, the synapses. The basic principles and mechanisms of this plasticity are explored in this department.
How optical input is processed in a fly’s brain is investigated in Professor Alexander Borst’s department Systems and Computational Neurobiology. The “cockpit” of a fly is amazing: During its speedy flight, optical information is analyzed and processed and aversion maneuvers induced within split seconds – and all of this is done with a mere 60 nerve cells. The scientists investigate how these cells accomplish their complex tasks through a combination of physiological measurements, the latest techniques in microscopy, and computer simulations. The observed circuits prove interesting also for applications in robotics.
The department Molecular Neurobiology, led by Professor Rüdiger Klein investigates the molecular mechanisms of cell communication in the nervous system. The development of something so complex like the nervous system is only possible with a highly functional cell communication. Likewise, an effective communication between neighboring as well as between more distanced cells is essential for day-to-day survival. Part of the investigations to unravel these functions includes the role of receptor tyrosine kinase in the growth and function of nerve cells.
In certain diseases of the nervous system, the immune system is misled and attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Multiple Sclerosis is among the most common of these autoimmune diseases. The department Neuroimmunology led by Professor Hartmut Wekerle investigates the basic principles and mechanisms of this conflict between immune and nervous system. The close collaboration with the Institute of Clinical Neuroimmunology at the University Hospital Großhadern provides the rare possibility to connect basic research with applied medicine.
Junior Research Groups
The independent junior research group Axonal Growth and Regeneration, led by Dr. Frank Bradke, investigates the molecular mechanisms underlying the growth and differentiation of nerve cells. The main focus lies on questions concerning the mechanisms which may induce nerve cells of the central nervous system to grow out again after an injury.
“Seeing” is a very complex task, in which nerve cells at the eye’s retina play a central role. Here, incoming light is “translated” into electrical pulses containing all visual information. Deciphering this visual code is the goal of Dr. Tim Gollisch and his independent junior research group Visual Coding.
The best microscopes are only of little aid if the cells or processes to be investigated are hardly discernible from their background. Dr. Oliver Griesbeck and his junior research group Cellular Dynamics develop biosensors, which stain specific cells or change their fluorescent hue when something goes on in the investigated nerve cell.
Synapses are the site where nerve cells communicate – and are thus of central importance for a healthy nervous system. How these synapses are assembled and disassembled, and which receptor proteins are involved, investigates Dr. Valentin Stein and his independent junior research group Synaptic Receptor Trafficking.
The independent junior research group Axon Guidance and Neuronal Connectivity, led by Dr. Takashi Suzuki, investigates the genetic interplay, which enables growing axons to connect to their respective partners. The group’s model organism is the fruit fly Drosophila, whose known genome provides optimal research conditions.
Like many other animals, flies can learn to associate a stimulus (for example an odor) with a positive or negative event. Which neuronal and synaptic mechanisms lead to this associative learning is investigated by Dr. Hiromu Tanimoto and his independent junior research group Behavioral Genetics.
Dendrites look like the “branches” of a nerve cell – they carry the synapses and bring them into contact with neighboring cells. The foundations of the very diverse dendritic branching patterns of different nerve cells are investigated by Dr. Gaia Tavosanis and her junior research group Dendrite Differentiation.
Emeritus and External Scientific Members
The institute’s scientific reputation is also based on six well-known professors, who work regularly or permanently at the institute. The institute’s webpage provides more information about the Emeritus Scientific Members (Prof. Albert Herz, Prof. Georg W. Kreutzberg, Prof. Hans Thoenen, and Prof. Bert Sakmann) and the External Scientific Members (Prof. Yves-Alain Barde and Prof. Reinhard Hohlfeld).
In addition to the manifold internal cooperation is the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology linked through numerous projects to its neighboring institutes. The Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry is situated directly next door on the Martinsried campus. Other institutes such as the University Hospital Großhadern, the Gene- und Biological-Centers of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and the Innovation and Startup Center for Biotechnology (IZB) are only a few minutes walk away.
Close cooperation also exists between the institute and the Interdisciplinary Center for Neural Computation (ICNC) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel), the University of California, San Diego (USA), the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine (USA) and the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience (Munich, Germany).
A lively international exchange is, among others, realized via several student-exchange programs with cooperating institutes. The participation in graduate school programs and the International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) assure the efficient and comprehensive education of PhD students.
The Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology attempts to render its research as transparent to the public as possible. The institute’s website informs in short news texts about ongoing work and events. Once every two years, the institute opens its doors to the general public on open day.
Visitor groups and school classes can also gain insight into the work at the institute on other days. Guided tours are coordinated to suit the group’s interests and prior knowledge.