Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology

Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology

In order to survive in the world, an organism must be able to adapt to an ever-changing environment. This would not be possible without the brain and the nervous system, which control all important activities in the body: they process sensations, control the function of organs, guide and enable movements and allow us to think. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried seek to understand how such a complex system develops, how it functions and how it is able to adapt to a continuously changing environment. To this end, they focus on the minute changes in the brain and nervous system from the molecular level up to the level of the synapses, the cells and the entire neuronal network.


Am Klopferspitz 18
82152 Martinsried
Phone: +49 89 8578-1
Fax: +49 89 8578-3541

PhD opportunities

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

IMPRS for Molecular and Cellular Life Sciences: From Biology to Medicine

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

Department Genes - Circuits - Behavior


Department Synapses – Circuits – Plasticity


Department Circuits - Computation – Models


Department Electrons - Photons - Neurons


Department Molecules – Signaling – Development

Three nerve cells are sufficient to steer a fly

HS cells correct an unwanted rotation movement by slowing down the legs

How to recognise your own kind

Zebrafish identify virtual shoal partners based on motion patterns typical of their species

Protein for deeper insights into the brain

Researchers publish building instructions to promote biomedical research

LC10 – the neuron that tracks fruit flies

How visual information about other flies reaches the male brain

Artificial neural networks now able to help reveal a brain’s structure

Digital image analysis steps up to the task of reliably reconstructing individual nerve cells


Guided by Light

4/2014 Biology & Medicine

A zebrafish larva that is only a few days old isn’t yet very mobile: at this age, it is capable of a few vigorous tail movements and not much else. For Herwig Baier at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried, however, that’s enough. For him, a simple and, above all, transparent brain is much more important. His particular aim is to switch individual neurons on and off using light and thus discover how the brain controls movement and behavior.

In the early days, only a small path connected the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried with the outskirts of Munich. Now a huge biocampus is located on the periphery of Munich, and the path has been transformed into a wide road. According to Tobias Bonhoefffer, learning and memory function in a very similar way: intensively used pathways are expanded, while unimportant routes and dead ends are eliminated.

Mending broken connections between nerve cells in the spinal cord is one of the biggest challenges for neurobiology.

A thousandth of a gram of nerve cells packed into a cubic millimeter of space: that pretty much sums up the brain of a fly – on the surface, anyway. Yet it’s an amazing organ. In fractions of a second, it translates optical information into steering commands, enabling flies to perform aerial acrobatics. Alexander Borst, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried, is studying the circuitry and components of this incredibly high-performance onboard computer.

Master Student

Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Martinsried October 23, 2018

How the brain makes sense of visual motion

2018 Kubo, Fumi

Behavioural Biology Genetics Neurosciences

Understanding how the brain processes incoming sensory information and generates appropriate behavior is one of the greatest challenges in science. Thanks to their transparent brain and readily modifiable genes, zebrafish (Danio rerio) larvae provide an unparalleled opportunity to tackle this question at the level of individual neurons and neural circuits. Using zebrafish, the Max Planck scientists have discovered a key mechanism that distinguishes between different patterns of visual motion and drives the appropriate behavioral responses.


The unfolding of brain folding

2018 Klein, Rüdiger

Evolutionary Biology Medicine Neurosciences

The cortex of the human brain is folded into an intricate pattern of grooves and furrows, which affords the cortex surface to be large, despite the small cranial space. But not all mammals have such a folded brain surface. By using a genetic manipulation, scientists at the Max-Planck Institute of Neurobiology have induced folds in the normally smooth surface of the mouse brain. The results have given insight into the underlying mechanisms that control brain folding.


How internal state and physiological conditions change perception of odors and tastes

2017 Grunwald Kadow, Ilona

Behavioural Biology Neurosciences

The perception and reaction to food odors and tastes can change dependent on internal state and needs. How these perceptual changes are brought about is not well understood. Recent findings have shown that female fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) change their perception and behavior after mating to preferring polyamine-rich diets, which they identify with specific odor and taste receptors. The results suggest that physiological needs influence sensory perception and, ultimately, behavior, enhancing reproductive success and survival.


Stability, plasticity and specificity in the adult brain

2017 Bonhoeffer, Tobias

Cognitive Science Neurosciences

The brain performs its computations based on information from the sensory organs. If this input changes, for instance after an injury, the brain has the ability to adapt. Ideally, after the disturbance has passed, the brain`s processing returns to normal state. Recent studies show that not only the general processing capabilities but also the detailed neural circuits return to their original state. In addition, the work also demonstrates that new neurons can be functionally integrated - even in the adult brain.


Using zebrafish larvae to link stimuli to behavior

2016 Portugues, Ruben

Behavioural Biology Genetics Neurosciences

A key function of the brain is to integrate incoming sensory information, and to select the optimal behavior in response to these external cues. The underlying computations in the brain are extremely complex and poorly understood. To address this area of research, scientists use the transparent larval zebrafish as model organism. With the aid of powerful microscopes, scientists can monitor the whole brain activity at single cell resolution in the intact, behaving animal. This helps to understand how neuronal circuit dynamics translate sensory processing into behavioral output.

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