Yearbook 2017

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How are decisions formed in the brain? Investigations on the rat nervous system show that the basic principles of such complex processes can be studied on detailed models of neuronal networks. Novel techniques allow reconstructing the structure of neurons after having studied their function in living animals. By means of these data, models of entire brain areas can be created. By simulating neuronal activity patterns in these anatomically detailed network models, scientists hope to gain insight into how sensory information and behaviors that arise from it are encoded in the brain. more
The cilium, an antenna-like structure in the cell, undergoes rapid assembly and disassembly. This is enabled by a bidirectional train-like transport system called intraflagellar transport (IFT). In healthy cells, IFT happens collision free and without traffic jams, but if IFT fails, various human pathologies arise. Recent findings show how the cell prevents collisions by placing trains going in opposite directions on different rails. more
When cells do not get enough nutrients, their energy level drops. This leads to a decrease of the pH value of the liquid interior of the cell, the cytoplasm – the cells acidify. In response, the cells enter into a kind of stand-by mode, enabling them to survive. How cells switch on and off this stand-by mode is unknown. The Max-Planck researchers might have found the answer: The cytoplasm of the seemingly dead cells changes its consistency from liquid to solid, thereby protecting the sensitive structures in the cellular interior. more
Neurodegenerative diseases‘ hallmark is the aggregation of mostly intrinsically disordered proteins. Getting fundamental insights into the structural biology of these proteins, it was possible to identify oligomers as an attractive target for disease modifying therapies. The compound anle138b is bearing the required properties regarding modification of aggregation pathways, and is also orally bioavailable. more
The question how and why we sleep is one of the most exciting mysteries of biology. Sleep is important for our well-being. Yet, we do not know how sleep becomes regenerative. The Max Planck Research Group Sleep and Waking is trying to answer these basic questions. The researchers’ strategy is to first investigate sleep in one of the most simple model organisms that sleeps, the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. The group identified a single neuron to be responsible for sleep induction and found a molecular mechanism for sleep induction. more
Atmospheric chemistry does not stop at sunset but continues via the formation and reactions of the NO3 radical. Whilst this dark chemistry is distinct from that during the day, the day-night systems are strongly coupled. Understanding the present composition of the troposphere and the ability to predict the impact of increasing anthropogenic emissions in the future require detailed understanding of the multifarious gas-phase and heterogeneous processes, both night and day. more
Our sense of well-being is linked to our hormones. Nearly twice as many women as men develop depressive illness. While this suggests that sex hormones play a key role in depression, it is not understood how they affect mood. Very little is known about how the brain is influenced by endogenous hormonal changes across the range of days to months. This is a critical gap, because many mental illnesses show large fluctuations over this timescale. Recent evidence suggests short-term changes in neurochemistry and functional and structural networks modulated by physiological sex-hormone fluctuation. more
In Continental Europe, traditional legal thinking is rather remote from empirical research and statistics. Nonetheless lawyers have been trying for more than one hundred years to fuse knowledge about society’s “is’s and oughts”. Their attempts had to continuously adapt to changes in the dominant intellectual paradigms, and are now framed as discursive argumentation about different normatively infused descriptions of the world. As such, empirical discourse is indispensable for the law and will shape legal education in the future. Complex legal realities require statistical legal thinking. more

Controlled conditions, controlled chemistry

Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces Gilmore, Kerry*; Pieber, Bartholomäus; Seeberger, Peter H.
The success of the vast majority of chemical transformations is reliant on the degree of control exhibited over a wide range of variables. Utilizing flow chemistry – where reagents are passed through a set of conditions via thin tubing as opposed to applying conditions to a round bottom flask – has allowed for achieving chemistries and efficiencies previously inaccessible. The modular nature of this technique has facilitated the development of a novel means of chemical synthesis, which targets core functionalities, allowing for multiple derivatives to be produced with a single flow system. more
Smart materials are designed to convert an external stimulus into a pre-defined, programmed response. Only a limited number of materials has been developed to date that are able to report on mechanically induced defects by changing their optical properties. Of further interest are materials that are able to self-heal such defects. To obtain these unique properties, mechanoresponsive molecules are required, which respond to the applied force in a well-defined manner. The research goals are to develop such molecules, to understand the mechanisms and to integrate them into novel smart materials. more
Nanoparticles are tiny particles with sizes between a millionth and a thousandth of a millimeter. They include natural viruses, as well as synthetic particles that are increasingly used for medical purposes. In order to enter a cell via endocytosis, a nanoparticle must first bind to the outer cell membrane. The membrane then spreads onto the particle surface until the particle is completely engulfed by the membrane. The key parameters that control this process on nanoscopic length scales have only recently been identified. more
A multi-modal fMRI platform is developed for a better understanding of the neuron-glio-vascular interaction in normal and diseased brain states of animals. Combining the single-vessel fMRI method with optogenetics and genetically encoded calcium indicators enables to identify the specific contributions of distinct vascular and cellular components to the fMRI signal. The translational application of this work is to identify vessel-specific dynamic biomarkers of patients with vascular dementia, ranging from small vessel diseases to degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. more
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