Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine, Göttingen, Germany
Human behavior is the most amazing of all phenomena that life has brought forth. With apparent ease, the nervous system archives key experiences from the earliest days of childhood, controls extremely precise movements, reasons out solutions to complex mathematical problems and creates the consciousness that differentiates the species Homo sapiens from all other animals. However, as amazingly well constructed as this network of nerve cells - or neurons - is, the consequences are just as profound when it is damaged: brain injuries or degenerative diseases, or even the smallest defect in cell development can lead to massive brain cell loss, memory failure or breakdown of muscle control.
How can nerve cells be protected from such fatal degenerations and malfunctions? And how is it possible that such a gigantic system as the human brain functions at all - a system in which around 100 billion neurons are interconnected and more than 100 trillion synapses communicate with one another? These questions form the central focus of research at the Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine.