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.

UV in the sunlight not only damages our DNA but also our RNA. After cell division, the DHX9 proteins from the mother cells assemble into stress granules to sequester the damaged RNA and shield the daughter cells

Stress granules protect cells from the effects of UV radiation


Revisiting gene dosage

November 29, 2023

Max Planck research reveals clever dosage control mechanism of biallelic genes


The enzyme MOF regulates genes in the nucleus, but also modifies metabolic proteins in the mitochondria


The NSL complex is a key player in controlling intraciliary transport genes

The Vice Presidents of the Max Planck Society: Asifa Akhtar, Claudia Felser, Christian Doeller and Sibylle Günter (from top left to bottom right).

The new team of Vice-Presidents includes three women. This means women now hold the majority on the Executive Committee

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Max Planck scientist Tim Lämmermann is investigating how immune cells hunt pathogens in swarms. The cells exhibit a behavior that biologists will also be familiar with from an insect – the Asian honey bee.

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.

Doctoral Positions | IMPRS Immunobiology & Epigenetics

Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, Freiburg May 06, 2024

Anti-bacterial communication between cellular organelles

2022 Rambold, Angelika

Evolutionary Biology Immunobiology Infection Biology Medicine

Macrophages are professional phagocytes  equipped to efficiently capture and eliminate pathogens inside their internal digestive system, the phagolysosome. However, certain bacteria can resist the elimination inside macrophages and thus are able to escape the control of the immune system. Our research now identifies a specialized communication mode between two different organelles, the phagolysosome and the mitochondria, activating an effective and cell-intrinsic anti-bacterial defense mechanism to control bacterial growth.


How immune cell swarms organize themselves

2021 Lämmermann, Tim

Developmental Biology Immunobiology Infection Biology Medicine

Neutrophilic granulocytes are scavenger cells of the innate immune response and first aiders of our immune system. They patrol through blood vessels and enter quickly into tissues upon signs of inflammation or infection to eliminate pathogens. Once they have arrived, they form impressive cell swarms and together attack the microbes. Our research shows that neutrophils have evolved a molecular start-stop system to self-control their swarm activity and thereby effectively clear bacteria in tissues.


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.


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.


Evolution of vertebrate immune systems

2014 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.

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