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
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.
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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.

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