Max Planck Institute for Brain Research

Max Planck Institute for Brain Research

No other organ is as complex as the human brain: each one of its nearly 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons, can connect with thousands of other neurons. And the brain’s “product” – e.g. behavior, action, perception, language, cognition – is extraordinarily varied and still mysterious. The Max Planck Institute for Brain Research is dedicated to the study of brain function on mechanistic and computational levels. The scientific focus of the Institute is on circuits, or networks of interacting parts, including molecules in a neuron, neurons in a local circuit and local circuits in larger brain systems. Scientists at the Institute strive to gain fundamental insights on brain function by studying mainly less complex nervous systems such as those of rodents, turtles or fish. They measure how nervous systems process sensory information, how memories are formed and stored, how circuits are structured, how sleep is produced, how adaptive behaviors are generated, while trying to understand the overarching computational principles governing these processes. The studies apply molecular, imaging, electron-microscopic, genetic, behavioral and electrophysiological methods, as well as numerical simulations and theory.


Max-von-Laue-Str. 4
60438 Frankfurt am Main
Phone: +49 69 850033-0
Fax: +49 69 850033-1599

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):
IMPRS for Neural Circuits

In addition, there is the possibility of individual doctoral research. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

Tracing cerebral cortex evolution
Molecular atlases of turtle and lizard brains shed light on the evolution of the human brain more
Software with smarts
A computer-aided network shows how ion channels in the membrane of neurons are able to control such wide-ranging abilities as short-term memory and brain waves more
By using innovative labeling methods, Max Planck researchers develop a technique to measure newly synthesized proteins in the active mouse brain more
Highly precise wiring in the cerebral cortex
Scientists discover fundamental connectivity pattern in the brain more
10-fold speed up for the reconstruction of neuronal networks
Flying through the brain thanks to a novel in-browser tool more
Cell number determines structure of neural maps
Frankfurt researchers find a simple explanation for the typical patterns of nerve cells inside neural maps more
Bright spots in brain cells
Witnessing the birth of a tiny RNA at brain synapses more
Neurons adjust their synapses by altering the synthesis of hundreds of proteins to regulate synaptic strength and network activity more
Bearded dragons show REM and slow wave sleep
Brain sleep appeared early in vertebrate evolution more
Tatjana Tchumatchenko, Tobias Erb and Ludovic Righetti receive the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize 2016 more
Dog-like carnivores and some primate species may have a magnetic compass similar to that of birds more
The Max Planck Institute for Brain Research commemorates its tragic past
Commemoration event at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research more
Faster reconstruction of the connectome
Scientists speed up reconstruction of connections between nerve cells more than ten-fold more

Clock for brain waves

November 19, 2014
Inhibitory neurons and electrical synapses determine the frequency of rhythmic activity in the brain more
Passing clouds in cuttlefish
Max Planck scientists establish tropical cuttlefish Metasepia tullbergi as a model organism to study travelling waves in biological systems more
The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research was founded in Berlin 100 years ago. The first Director was Oskar Vogt, an ambitious scientist who became famous when he investigated Lenin’s brain. His wife Cécile and he provided important findings on the structure of the cerebral cortex – and also labored under a misconception or two.
Technician (BTA/MTA/CTA)
Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, Frankfurt am Main March 29, 2018

Information coding using neuronal spikes

2018 Tchumatchenko,Tatjana
Neurons communicate by short electric pulses, the so-called action potentials or spikes. In order to fully understand cognitive functions, knowledge about how spikes encode information is necessary. The research group found that pairwise spike correlations and their linear components shape the coding of information. Linear response functions are one of the most versatile concepts and have been used to understand many neuroscientific topics, though their validity regime is not unlimited. more

Recent technological advancement has opened up a new era of neuroscience research to acquire large-scale datasets from the brain, and to model and interpret them by novel analytical techniques and algorithms. Here, computational and mathematical approaches are used to understand how neural activity shapes circuit organization and dynamics. The focus lies on neural circuits that enable animals to navigate to a desired location in space.



The Laurent lab at the MPI for Brain Research works on deciphering rules of brain computation using simpler systems and model organisms for experimentation. Much of their interest is focused on cortical computation. The only non-mammalian animals with a layered cortex are the non-avian reptiles, and their cortex is much simpler as compared to mammals. Using turtles and lizards, the group of Gilles Laurent has undertaken a study of visual cortex, of cortical dynamics – travelling waves and oscillations – and of sleep.


Mammalian Connectomics: neuronal network maps

2015 Helmstaedter, Moritz
The brain’s complex neuronal communication network, its connectome, has to be considered a crucial basis for the brain’s impressive performance. Only in recent years, the partial mapping of connectomes has become possible in mammalian brains: MPG-researchers W. Denk and M. Helmstaedter succeeded in mapping the local connectome of mouse retina. The newly established department of connectomics will now focus on connectomic mapping of the cerebral cortex to understand how sensory experience is combined with novel sensory input for the detection and classification of objects in the environment. more

Computational and experimental analysis of neuronal circuit function

2014 Tchumatchenko, Tatjana; Letzkus, Johannes

The brain is the most complex system we know. At the MPI for Brain Research two groups were appointed in 2013 that use complementary approaches to address the fundamental functions of neuronal circuits: Tatjana Tchumatchenko’s group uses theoretical approaches to understand information encoding in neuronal circuits. The Laboratory of Johannes Letzkus takes the experimental approach and employs 2-photon microscopy and optogenetic methods to understand which activity patterns occur in neocortical circuits during behavior, and how these activity patterns in turn guide the animal’s behavior.


On the molecular track of memory – how to visualize learning

2013 tom Dieck, Susanne; Schuman, Erin

The change of single communication sites between nerve cells, independent of neighboring sites, is believed to be a cellular basis of learning and memory. An elegant explanation how neurons accomplish this arose from the detection that specific proteins might be synthesized close to contact points. With a combination of sensitive methods MPIH investigators now showed that the diversity of protein building plans in neuronal processes is much higher than anticipated – a drastic change in the picture of the neuronal world.


From sympathetic neuron development to neuroblastoma

2012 Rohrer, Hermann
Developmental Biology Neurosciences
Neuroblastoma (NB) is a childhood tumor that arises from the sympathoadrenal lineage. The mechanisms that direct sympathetic neuron generation are fundamentally different from the control of neurogenesis in other parts of the nervous system and involve the transcription factor Phox2b and the tyrosine kinase receptor Alk. Mutations in Phox2b and Alk predispose to NB in familiar forms of this disease. The expression of mutant Phox2b and Alk in embryonic sympathetic ganglion cells identified signaling pathways that result in aberrant growth and may contribute to NB predisposition. more

Conscious perception as a dynamical and plastic process

2011 Melloni, Lucia; Schwiedrzik, Caspar M.
Neurosciences Physiology
Which factors determine whether a stimulus is consciously perceived or unconsciously processed? Here it is investigated how previous knowledge affects perception and its underlying neuronal processes. Furthermore, it is investigated whether conscious perception can be learned. The results show that conscious perception is not solely due to the amount of information that a stimulus carries. Rather, conscious perception is the result of a plastic, integrative process during which current information interacts with previously acquired knowledge. more

Are the photoreceptors of mammalian retinae adaptated to habitat and lifestyle?

2010 Peichl, Leo
Behavioural Biology Neurosciences
The properties of the retinal photoreceptors determine the information that the visual system receives for further processing. All mammals have rod photoreceptors for low-light and night vision, and cone photoreceptors for daylight and colour vision. However, this basic blueprint is rather flexible and shows species-specific adaptations to different visual needs, e. g. differences in colour vision, ultraviolet vision in some species, and colour blindness in others. The rod nuclei of nocturnal mammals act as light-collecting lenses for improved light transmission. more

Dysfunctions of inhibitory neurotransmission as major causes for neurological diseases

2009 Eulenburg, Volker; Betz, Heinrich
Medicine Neurosciences
Glycine and GABA are the two principal inhibitory neurotransmitters in the mammalian central nervous system. Dysfunctions of inhibitory neurotransmission are major causes of neurological diseases like epilepsy or a predominantly spinal form of neuronal hyperexcitability, hyperekplexia. Here, the analysis of genetically modified mice revealed two novel disease genes associated with malfunctioning of inhibitory synapses, the collybistin and the glycine transporter 2 genes. Genetic screening of human patients established mutations in both genes as causal for human disease. more

The dual role of the neurotransmitter Glycine in the CNS

2009 Laube, Bodo; Betz, Heinrich
Glycine, the simplest of all amino acids, inhibits postsynaptic neurons via strychnine-sensitive glycine receptors and, together with glutamate, enhances neuronal excitation by the activation of excitatory N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. Studies at the MPI for Brain Research indicate that a distinct NMDA receptor subtype is activated by glycine alone, and thus functions as an “excitatory glycine receptor”. Recent results establish a central role of glycine in the regulation of neuronal excitability. more

Neural synchrony as a mechanism for pathology and development in cortical networks

2008 Uhlhaas, Peter J.
Cognitive Science Medicine Neurosciences
Neural synchrony represents a possible mechanism to coordinate distributed neural activity patterns in cortical networks. Evidence is emerging that besides a role for cognitive processes, neural synchrony may function as an important pathophysiological and developmental mechanism in neuropsychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia. more

Contextual integration in primary visual cortex

2008 Schmidt, Kerstin E.
Neurons in primary visual cortex have been thought of as spatially restricted analyzers of the visual field. However, a single neuron’s response is also critically influenced by the visual context outside its receptive field. This report deals with investigations how contextual stimuli get integrated into the activity patterns of the visual cortex and which neuronal structures convey the subthreshold activity crucial for that integration. more

The Inhibitory Neurotransmitter Glycine in the Retina

2007 Wässle, Heinz
The retina covers the inside of the eye and, comparable to the film in a photographic camera, represents the light sensitive layer. During embryonic development the retina forms as a protrusion of the future brain and is, therefore, part of the central nervous system. Because of its well defined function, its regular structure and its easy accessibility, the retina serves as a model to study brain function. This report describes the contacts (synapses) between neurons of the retina where the inhibitory neurotransmitter glycine is released. more

Signals from target organs control the differentiation of neurons

2007 Rohrer, Hermann
Developmental Biology Neurosciences
Nervous system development depends on mechanisms that control the generation of different neuronal subtypes. In the peripheral nervous system, signals from innervated targets elicit the specialization to different functional neuronal subtypes. The target-dependent cholinergic differentiation of sympathetic neurons is mediated in vivo by members of the gp130-cytokine family. more
In the cerebral cortex information processing strongly relies on the connectivity between different areas. So far, investigations have concentrated on the role of feed-forward connections linking lower areas to higher order centers. However, there is also a dense network of feed-back connections which transmit signals back to the primary sensory areas. We have investigated the role of these connections using optical and electrophysiological recording techniques in combination with reversible deactivation methods and showed that feed-back connections exert a strong influence over the neuronal processes in early sensory areas. Moreover, we investigated how use-dependent cortical plasticity is related to different states of cortical processing and found that only in states of high frequency oscillatory activity, which are related to wakefulness and attention, an enhancement of the representations of repetitively experienced stimuli can be induced. more
The cerebral cortex of mammals consists of two main types of nerve cells: excitatory projection neurons and inhibitory interneurons. The excitatory or inhibitory action is mainly determined by the released transmitter glutamate or γ-amino-butyric acid (GABA). Transmitter release takes place at synapses, the communication sites between nerve cells. The balanced interplay of excitation and inhibition allows for the computational power of the cerebral cortex. A central element of neuronal signal processing is the regulation of transmission strength at synapses. The independent research group “Synaptic regulation and function” studies regulatory mechanisms at glutamatergic synapses with two focal points: the role of electrical signaling at presynaptic nerve endings for transmitter release and long-term plasticity of glutamatergic excitation of inhibitory interneurons. These questions are addressed by use of the patch-clamp technique in brain slices of rodents. more

Molecular analysis of synaptic inhibition

2004 Betz, Heinrich; Müller, Ulrike
The proper functioning of the nervous system requires a precise interplay of excitatory and inhibitory nerve impulses. Our department investigates the molecular mechanisms of synaptic inhibition in the central nervous system. A particular focus are studies on the function of membrane proteins which mediate or regulate inhibition by the amino acid glycine. By generating mouse mutants for specific subtypes of glycine transporters and glycine receptors, important functions of these proteins in the inhibition of motor and pain pathways could be identified. Our results are important for the development of new neuroactive drugs. more
Go to Editor View