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 Immunobiology, Epigentics and Metabolism

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

Hematopoietic stem cells take advantage of RNA from pathogenic remnants integrated in the genome to replenish the blood system


Immune cells coordinate their swarming behavior to eliminate pathogens effectively together


Epigenetic regulator HP1a drives de novo genome reorganization in early Drosophila embryos


Freiburg researchers dissect Covid-19 immunity of recovered patients


How sulfur metabolism may have paved the way for the evolution of multicellularity


Men and women possess different sex chromosomes. Nature, however, manages to reconcile this genetic gender gap. Asifa Akhtar, the Director of the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg, and her team are researching the sophisticated epigenetic mechanisms responsible for this process. As the Vice-President of the Biological and Medical Section in the Max Planck Society, she is also committed to reducing the gender gap in science.

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.

PhD Graduate Program (m/f/d) | Immunobiology, Epigenetics, and Metabolism at IMPRS-IEM

Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, Freiburg September 15, 2021

Bioinformatician (m/f/d)

Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, Freiburg August 06, 2021

Neurons, also known as nerve cells, send and receive signals in our brain. They are particularly complex and fulfill functions that are unique to this cell type. Our research has shown that particular RNA sequences are of crucial importance for neurons to maintain their identity, and to develop and function properly. We study the gene-regulatory mechanisms that underlie the neuron-specific RNA landscape that drives neural function in health and disease.


Hematopoietic stem cells - why vitamin A needs to protect them from activation

2019 Schönberger, Katharina; Obier, Nadine; Pavlovich, Polina; Cabezas-Wallscheid, Nina

Developmental Biology Infection Biology Medicine

Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are essential for the lifelong production of blood cells. Our research demonstrated that specific molecular signals, like Vitamin A, keep HSCs in a sleep-like, dormant state protecting them from exhaustion and maintaining their long-term differentiation potential. As a reaction to stress, such as blood loss or infections, dormant HSCs are activated in order to regenerate the blood system in a quick manner. We are investigating the mechanisms responsible for the resting state to develop new therapeutic approaches for the treatment of blood-related diseases.


Inheritance beyond DNA: intergenerational epigenetic inheritance

2017 Zenk, Fides; Iovino, Nicola

Evolutionary Biology Genetics

The genetic information for building an organism is transmitted from parents to offspring through gametes. Although it has long been thought that the DNA blueprint solely is encoded in our genes, increasing evidence shows that stress-induced changes in the chromatin can also be inherited through gametes affecting gene regulation across generations. Our recent research shows that an epigenetic modification, H3K27me3, is maternally inherited and controls gene expression during early embryogenesis. Future work will address the mechanisms underlying intergenerational epigenetic inheritance.


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

2016 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.


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.

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