Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics

Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics

Viruses, bacteria and other parasites pose a permanent threat to the survival of organisms. Most living creatures therefore have ingenious defence strategies in place with which to fight such invaders. The scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics focus on the development and functioning of such strategies. They examine how the immune system emerged in the course of evolution and how it develops from the embryo to the adult organism. They also analyse genes and molecules which are important for a functioning immune system. For example, they look into the factors controlling the maturation of immune cells and how chemical changes in the genetic substance DNA influence the immune defence. In addition to immunobiology, another research focus was established at the Institute in 2007: epigenetics. This science focuses on the inheritance of characteristics that are not caused by changes in the DNA sequence. This new research focus is expected to lead to a better understanding of diseases and cancers that cannot be defined in strictly genetic terms.


Stübeweg 51
79108 Freiburg
Phone: +49 761 5108-0
Fax: +49 761 5108-220

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):
IMPRS for Molecular and Cellular Biology

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

Epigenetics between the generations
Max Planck researchers prove that we inherit more than just genes more
Valuable waste
An enzyme keeps the parasites of the genome in check and turns them into an evolutionary advantage more
Obesity can sometimes be shut down more
The logistics on the drosophila X chromosome
Researchers decode molecular mechanism facilitating dosage compensation in flies more
Obesity – like father, like son
Fruit flies pass down changes in their metabolism from father to son more
500 million year reset for the immune system
A single factor can reset the immune system of mice to a state likely similar to what it was 500 million years ago, when the first vertebrates emerged. more
HO-1 makes obese individuals sick
Study unravels a link between obesity and diabetes and suggests promising therapeutic strategies more
Nanoscale order on the B cell
Biologists in Freiburg determine the arrangement of cell membrane molecules using a nanoscale tape measure more
The Battle of Xs

The Battle of Xs

June 17, 2014
MOF complexes mediate genetic fair play more
Freiburg scientist is awarded the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize
Immunologist Michael Reth is honoured for outstanding biomedical research more
B-cells aggravate autoimmune diseases
Antibody producers regulate the immune response using a recently discovered mechanism more
First shark genome decoded

First shark genome decoded

January 08, 2014
Genome of the elephant shark provides new insights into immunity and bone formation more
Molecular monkey arranges X-chromosome activation
Protein moulds RNA to ensure that activating factors can hold on to it more
Transcription factor EBF1 reminds cells who they are more
New mechanism discovered in meiosis
Inactivated, but still active – how modification of an enzyme governs critical processes in sexual reproduction more
In the mid-1970s, Georges Köhler, later Director at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology in Freiburg, succeeded in fusing together a short-lived immune cell and a rapidly dividing cancer cell. The result was an immortal cell chimera with the ability to produce identical (“monoclonal”) antibodies, ushering in a revolution in biology and medical science. In 1984, Köhler was awarded the Nobel Prize along with César Milstein and Niels Kaj Jerne. The researcher, who died young, would have celebrated his 70th birthday this year.
Knowledge changes constantly as research probes the validity of existing knowledge and converts ignorance into new knowledge. Research may also create new ignorance by discovering entirely novel territories whose very existence we had not imagined. Our author analyzes the conditions most conducive to drawing back the curtains.
Research into epigenetics is a rapidly growing field. A recent conference at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology in Freiburg shed light on the reasons.
Technical Assistant (BTA/CTA/MTA),
Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, Freiburg May 25, 2018
Two Postdoctoral positions in Drosophila Su(var) genetics
Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, Freiburg May 23, 2018
Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, Freiburg May 23, 2018
Research assistant (Drosophila genetics)
Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, Freiburg May 23, 2018
Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, Freiburg May 16, 2018

Pebbles in the mosaic: Which cells shape our organs and where do they come from?

2017 Grün, Dominic
Developmental Biology Immunobiology
Every organ in our body is composed of a multitude of single cells. Key to understanding the function of an organ is the knowledge of all the distinct cell types with their respective function plus their developmental pathways, with a so-called stem cell as a common starting point. Innovative novel molecular biology methods now permit the simultaneous quantification of thousands of molecules across single cells. This reveals a fingerprint of a cell, permitting to discriminate cell types of different function and to infer developmental pathways. more
In response to pathogens, immune cells activate a cellular program to eliminate harmful, infectious organisms and ensure our health. To mount a functional immune response, most immune cells require the reprogramming of their metabolic pathways. The scientists aim at gaining novel insight into how specific cellular compartments, so-called organelles, regulate such metabolic transitions. Of particular interest is hereby not only the function of individual organelles but also how inter-organellar communication drives metabolic immune cell programs and enables the fight against infections. more

The role of molecular chaperones during transcription: implications in biomedicine and evolution

2016 Hummel, Barbara; Yoveva, Aneliya; Sawarkar, Ritwick
Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Immunobiology Infection Biology Medicine
Molecular chaperones are known for their role in folding of proteins in the cytosol. The research focus of the research group is to study these chaperones operating at chromatin, at sites of gene expression. In 2015, two important aspects of chaperoning at chromatin were discovered. Firstly, the mechanistic basis of buffering of genetic variation in gene promoters was elucidated. Secondly, an unbiased interaction network of Hsp90 at chromatin was uncovered in human cells paving a way for understanding anti-cancer properties of Hsp90 inhibitors. more

In the spotlight: Cells of the innate immune response become illuminated in Freiburg

2016 Lämmermann, Tim
Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Immunobiology Infection Biology Medicine
Upon entry of an infectious organism, cells of the innate immune response mediate a rapid immune reaction to eliminate harmful pathogens and protect our tissues. The researchers aim to gain novel insight into how different types of immune cells coordinate their behavior at inflamed tissue sites to mount an optimal immune response. By using a special form of microscopy, the researchers could already decipher the molecular mechanisms which allow phagocytes to form prominent cell swarms collectively fighting pathogens in infected tissues. more

Evolution of vertebrate immune systems

2015 Swann, Jeremy; Boehm, Thomas
Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Immunobiology Infection Biology Medicine

All living beings possess immune systems to defend themselves against parasites and pathogens, which requires their ability to distinguish self from nonself. Scientists examine the evolution and function of vertebrate immune systems in order to determine design principles and any species-specific peculiarities. Furthermore, the scientists aim at reconstructing the immune functions of extinct species. With this knowledge, attempts are being made to generate artificial immune facilities for therapeutic purposes.


Understanding why we’re fat, and why it matters

2015 Lempradl, Adelheid; Pospisilik, Andrew
Developmental Biology Medicine
Worldwide, over two billion individuals are overweight and associated diseases including type-2-diabetes, stroke and cancer provide a major healthcare challenge. Our laboratory aims to understand mechanisms underlying obesity. Here, two recent studies are summarized; the first highlighting the identification of the enzyme HO-1 as a probable input separating healthy from metabolically diseased obesity, and the second, mapping the pathways allowing a father’s diet to control future offspring obesity susceptibility. more

A new model for transplantation of blood stem cells

2014 Hess, Isabell; Schorpp, Michael
Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Immunobiology Medicine
Thymopoiesis is a very complex and dynamic process. The thymus is important for the differentiation and maturation of progenitor cells into self-tolerant T-lymphocytes. Failures in thymus development or thymus function cause immunodeficiencies; however, many genetic lesions underlying these diseases are still unknown. At the institute, researchers aim at a better understanding of the molecular and cellular mechanisms of thymus development. more

Epigenetic identity and nuclear organization of centromeres

2014 Padeken, Jan; Mendiburo, María José; Olszak, Agata; Schwarz, Hans-Jürgen; Heun, Patrick
Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Immunobiology Medicine
Centromeres are specialized genomic regions essential for proper chromosome segregation to the daughter cells. The researchers are interested in understanding how their identity and nuclear organization is regulated. Using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster it was recently shown that the centromere-specific histone CENP-A is a key epigenetic mark for centromere identity, both necessary and sufficient for centromere formation. We further identified Nucleoplasmin (NLP) to play a major role in the positioning of centromeres in the nucleus. more

Heterochromatin – packaging artists at work

2013 Jenuwein, Thomas; Lachner, Monika; Roesch, Harald
Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Immunobiology Infection Biology Medicine
To fit the two-meter long DNA molecule into a cell nucleus that is only a few thousandths of a millimeter in size, long sections of the DNA must be strongly compacted. Epigenetic marks maintain these sections, known as heterochromatin. The research group, led by Thomas Jenuwein, at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics investigates the molecular mechanisms necessary for the formation of heterochromatin. In particular, their research focuses on histone methylation. more

Epigenetics: How male fruit flies compensate their missing X-chromosome

2013 Akhtar, Asifa; Conrad, Thomas; Hallacli, Erinc
Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Immunobiology Infection Biology Medicine

The research focus of the Akhtar laboratory is to study epigenetic mechanisms underlying sex-specific X chromosomal gene regulation. The dosage compensation of the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) constitutes a paradigm example of epigenetic regulation. In 2012, two important aspects of this mechanism were discovered: Firstly, important insights into the structure of the protein complex responsible for the dosage compensation were revealed and secondly the Akhtar lab could demonstrate the manner by which a protein complex in the nucleus influences the dosage compensation.


The role of autoreactivity in B cell development

2012 Jumaa, Hassan
Antibodies produced by B lymphocytes are able to recognize virtually any foreign antigen in the body. This enormous antibody diversity is generated by random somatic recombination of V-, (D-) and J-gene segments. In this process, autoantibodies can be generated that are directed against the body’s own structures and can thereby cause autoimmune diseases. However, scientists at the MPI for Immunobiology and Epigenetics could now show that the recognition of autoantigens is important for the selection and expansion of developing B cells. more

Immune tolerance induction in the gut

2012 Izcue, Ana
Functional immune systems rely on tolerance to self and harmless components of food and microflora. In mammals, immune tolerance is achieved through several mechanisms including a specialised T cell subset with a high constitutive expression of the transcription factor Foxp3. These so called regulatory T cells are especially important in the gut. The team of Ana Izcue analyses the factors required for the activity of regulatory T cells in vivo. more

The Stability of Bob1 in B Cells

2011 Nielsen, Peter
Genetics Immunobiology
Bob1 (also called OBF-1 or OCA-B) is a lymphoid transcription factor. While loss of Bob1 leads to impaired B-cell development and activation, over-expression of Bob1 could contribute to B-cell lymphomas. The amount of Bob1 protein in B-cells appears to be largely controlled by protein stability. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Immunology and Epigenetics are investigating how Bob1 stability is regulated during B-cell development. more

RNA-binding proteins and microRNAs in the mammalian embryo

2011 Winter, Jennifer
Developmental Biology Genetics Immunobiology
Posttranscriptional regulation mediated by RNA-binding proteins and microRNAs is essential for proper development of the embryo. This is due to the fact that the embryo is a very dynamic system in which cells have to acquire new characteristics rapidly or have to migrate to distant places in the organism. Scientist at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics study functions of RNA-binding proteins and microRNAs (miRNAs) in the developing mouse embryo. more
The thymus is a primary lymphoid organ whose function is to provide mature and self-tolerant T lymphocytes required to fight infection and maintain tissue integrity. About 40 mutant zebrafish lines with aberrant thymus development have been established. The mutant genes so far identified show that the zebrafish model is an excellent tool to define novel genetic pathways important for T cell development. Live imaging analysis with these mutants and novel transgenic fish lines is used to examine the genetic basis of essential steps of thymopoiesis and to unravel their spatial and temporal characteristics. more

T-cell activation

2010 Schamel, Wolfgang
The immune system plays a central role for human health. Critically involved for its functioning is the activation of T-cells that relies on a complex intracellular signalling-network. To understand its behaviour, one has to study it in detail. Only then can one understand its dysfunction, as e.g. in case of tumors or infections, and develop novel drugs. Scientists at the MPI for Immune Biology have used biochemical and systemsbiology approaches to understand the function of the T-cell signalling-network. Of particular interest is the first element of the network, the T-cell antigen receptor (TCR-CD3) complex that recognizes foreign proteins. more

The role of cadherins during patterning of the mammalian embryo

2009 Stemmler, Marc
Cell Biology Developmental Biology
Cadherin-mediated cell-cell adhesion plays a pivotal role in patterning of multicellular organisms. In particular E- and N-cadherin have an important function during development and their expression is usually mutually exclusive. During important morphogenetic events expression is switched from E- to N-cadherin. This cadherin switch is observed during normal development, but also during tumorigenesis and metastasis and is accompanied by changes in cell morphology and their molecular properties. Scientists at the MPI of Immunobiology have focused on the molecular differences between and the gene regulation of E- and N-cadherin. more
The human genome contains roughly 25,000 protein-coding genes. However, in a given cell-type a maximum of only 10,000 of these genes are expressed at a significant level. In order to understand this, scientists have to know the gene regulatory code, which consists of the DNA sequence-dependent binding specificities of a prominent class of DNA-binding proteins, the so called transcription factors (TFs), which are able to read the regulatory information. Max-Planck researchers have devised a fast and sensitive technology bearing the potential for genome-wide studies of the gene regulatory code. more

Regulation and function of TGF-ß signals during early embryogenesi

2008 Oelgeschläger, Michael
Cell Biology Developmental Biology
Abstract Proteins of the transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-ß) family regulate a plethora of cellular processes. TGF-ß proteins regulate cellular differentiation as well as proliferation and mutations in the TGF-ß signal transduction pathway have been identified in various tumours. In addition, TGF-ß activity is of central importance for early embryonic development. Scientists at the Max-Planck-Institute of Immunobiology have identified new TGF-ß regulated genes that mediate TGF-ß activities during early embryonic development. more

Biological Patterning

2007 Schlake, Thomas
Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Mathematics
How does the complexity and variability of life develop from simple embryonic structures? Periodic body structures as well as characteristic colour patterns on the body surface clearly stress the existence of biological patterning processes. Although an astonishingly simple mathematical model could explain pattern formation, experimental proof was still missing. A combined experimental and computer modelling approach now provided evidence for the biological correctness of the hypothesised mechanism. more

Mediators of Transcriptional Regulation

2007 Borggrefe, Tilman
Cell Biology Genetics
All protein coding genes are transcribed by RNA polymerase II, the central enzyme in gene expression. A Mediator complex forms the bridge between transcriptional regulators and the RNA polymerase II machinery. Scientists at the MPI for Immunobiology recently gained first insights of the physiological function of the Mediator complex by using knock-out mice. They could show that Mediator is an essential coactivator for erythroid master regulator GATA-1. Therefore, mice lacking Mediator subunit Med1/TRAP220 are anemic and have a defect in the red blood cell development. more

Notch signaling and its key role in the neural stem cell differentiation

2006 Taylor, Verdon
Cell Biology Developmental Biology Neurosciences
Understanding the mechanisms that control the maintenance and differentiation of stem cells in the central nervous system of mammals is a key question in developmental and regenerative neurobiology. As the population ages, the occurrence of diseases that afflict the nervous system are becoming of prime importance and currently there are no therapies for the maintenance or replacement of neurons lost due to disease or damage in the brain. Scientists at the MPI for Immune Biology have focused on the identification of neural stem cells in the mammalian central nervous system, determining the niche and mechanisms that control neural stem cell development and addressing their potential for therapeutic cell replacement. more

The role of lipopolysaccharid in the interplay between bacteria and the immune system

2005 Freudenberg, Marina A.
Immunobiology Infection Biology Microbiology
The interaction of bacteria and other pathogenic microorganisms with the mammalian immune system has been the subject of world-wide investigations since more than a century now. The studies carried out in the group of Marina A. Freudenberg at the MPI for Immune Biology are concerned mainly with the interaction of lipopolysaccharide (endotoxin, LPS) with the innate immune system. LPS is a highly toxic component present in the outer cell-wall of Gram-negative bacteria, inducing in animals and humans a large spectrum of pathophysiological activities that can lead to shock and death. On the other hand LPS is a powerful activator of the innate immune system and plays a primary role in the early recognition of bacterial infections and in the stimulation of antibacterial defense. The positive and negative consequences of LPS/host interaction during bacterial infections, i.e. the induction of an early resistance to infection, the development of pathophysiological effects, as well as their underlying mechanisms are investigated by the group in different mouse-models. The objective of these studies is an improved diagnosis, prevention and treatment of infection and are therefore important both from the scientific and clinical point of view. more

Quality control in the immune system

2005 Boehm, Thomas
Evolutionary Biology Immunobiology
How does the immune system avoid self-destruction and the devastating effects of autoimmunity that Paul Ehrlich described as “horror autotoxicus“? How did early vertebrates survive when they began to use receptors with random antigen specificities despite their extensive self-reactivity? It appears that the quality control mechanisms taming self-reactivity in the immune system were derived from an ancient mechanism that guided sexualselection on the basis of evaluating genetic diversity. more

Zebrafish as a model for immunological research

2004 Schorpp, Michael
Genetics Immunobiology
The group of Michael Schorpp at the MPI in Freiburg is interested in identifying genes that are important for thymopoiesis in the zebrafish. They study mutant fish lines that were generated by chemical mutagenesis and display aberrant thymus development. Affected genes are isolated by positional cloning and their biological function elucidated in fish and mice using a variety of methods. These studies are of medical relevance as they might lead to more refined diagnosis and novel therapeutic modalities for inborn or acquired immune deficiency syndromes. more

Embryonic patterning via gradients of BMP signaling

2004 Oelgeschläger, Michael
Developmental Biology
The Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMP) belong to the TGF-ß family of secreted growth factors and regulate fundamental events in early development of vertebrate as well as invertebrate embryos. In particular, the formation of a functional BMP signalling gradient, established by the localised secretion of BMP antagonists, is essential for the determination of cell fate along the future dorsoventral or back-to-belly body axis. Michale Oelgeschläger and his team have identified a number of new genes that are regulated by the BMP signalling gradient in Xenopus laevis. One of these genes is involved in the regulation of cellular movements rather than cell fate determination and might help to unravel the relationship of cellular movements and cell fate determination during early embryonic development. more

The adapter protein SLP65 functions as tumour suppressor of childhood leukaemia

2004 Reth, Michael; Jumaa, Hassan
Cell Biology Immunobiology
Signal transduction processes regulate the differentiation of B cells. Deregulation may result in immunodeficiency, autoimmunity or lymphoproliferative diseases. Mice lacking the adaptor protein SLP-65 show a block in B cell differentiation and an increased incidence of pre-B cell leukaemia. Moreover, the tumour suppressor function of SLP-65 seems to be required for the inhibition of pre-B cell leukaemia in humans. more
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