Yearbook 2008

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One of the research projects at the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome deals with the exchange of diplomatic gifts between Italy and Spain during the sixteenth century. Italian princes offered elaborate works of art to the Spanish king Philip II to demonstrate political loyalty, but also to distinguish themselves before Europe’s most powerful ruler. Ambassadors and agents were responsible for procuring and delivering these diplomatic gifts, and in order to do so they had to be familiar with official political events as well as with internal court intrigues. During the 1580s Philip II employed one of his court jesters, Gonzalo de Liaño, as a middleman on diplomatic missions to Italy. The correspondence of this curious figure offers new insights into early modern court culture. more
The structure of viruses provides a remarkable example of simplicity and functionality in biological systems. Composed of a limited number of proteins and often organized according to geometric principles, viral particles are effective devices in the transfer of the viral genome and proteins to host cells. To determine the molecular interactions, cryo electron tomography is employed to reveal the molecular players through which viruses communicate with their hosts and to understand how viruses take advantage of cellular cues in infection and for replicating themselves efficiently. more
Semiconductor chips and neuronal systems can be electrically coupled on a microscopic level. This research provides the fundament for an application of such hybrid processors in brain research, neuroprosthetics and information technology. On the neuronal side, ion channels, nerve cells and brain tissue are employed. On the electronic side, simple silicon chips with transistors and capacitors are used for the elucidation of the coupling mechanism. On that basis, complex chips are developed with more that 30000 contact sites to supervise neuronal activity with highest spatial resolution. more
How are ecosystem functions influenced by the loss of species diversity? How does the presence or absence of particular species affect biogeochemical cycles? The group ‘Organismic Biogeochemistry’ addresses these questions by compiling and analyzing global databases of functional plant traits and ecosystem properties. Three examples are presented to show that species identity effects may influence the carbon cycles at large scales and may thus be relevant in the context of climate change. more
Researchers of the MPI for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster have made an important advancement towards obtaining patient-specific stem cells. They have succeeded in resetting adult somatic cells to an embryonic original state with less intrusions than previously necessary: instead of a „cocktail“ of four genes, the scientists needed merely two. This could make future stem cell therapies simpler and safer. more
In the mouse, the sense of smell (olfaction) is mediated by more than 1200 odorant receptors (ORs), the largest gene family in the genome. These ORs are G-protein coupled receptors. Every olfactory sensory neuron (OSN) in the main olfactory epithelium is thought to express just one OR gene, from one allele. Axons of OSNs that express the same OR coalesce into the same structures in the olfactory bulb, termed glomeruli, where they form synapses with second-order neurons in the olfactory pathway. more
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
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
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