The neurosciences at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen

A new open-access piece in Journal of the History of the Neurosciences may be of interest to AHP readers: “The neurosciences at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen” by Heinz Wässle and Sascha Topp. Abstract:

The Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Biophysical Chemistry (Karl-Friedrich Bonhoeffer Institute) was founded in 1971 in Göttingen. Two of the 11 departments at the institute had a neuroscientific focus. Otto D. Creutzfeldt (1927–1992) and Victor P. Whittaker (1919–2016) were directors of the Neurobiological and Neurochemical Departments, respectively. Creutzfeldt’s department researched the structure and function of the cerebral cortex, and Whittaker’s department concentrated on the biochemical analysis of synapses and synaptic vesicles. Creutzfeldt and Whittaker were already internationally respected scientists when they were appointed to Göttingen. The next generation of departmental directors, Erwin Neher and Bert Sakmann, were “home-grown” researchers from the institute and, during their time as junior group leaders, they developed the so-called patch clamp technique, with which they were able to measure single ion channels in nerve cells. This technique revolutionized neurophysiology, and Neher and Sakmann were awarded the 1991 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work in this area. Neher was appointed director of the Membrane Biophysics Department in 1983 and, since then, his department has mainly examined the role of Ca2+ in the release of neurotransmitters at synapses and in the secretion of catecholamines from chromaffin cells. From 1985, Sakmann was director of the Cell Physiology Department, and his laboratory concentrated on the molecular and physiological characterization of transmitter receptors in postsynaptic membranes. In 1989, he was appointed to the MPI for Medical Research in Heidelberg. Reinhard Jahn became director of the Neurobiology Department in 1997, researching the molecular mechanisms of the release of neurotransmitters from the presynaptic terminals, and he discovered several proteins associated with the synaptic vesicles. With their work, Neher, Sakmann, and Jahn have made the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry one of the world’s leading research centers for the transmission of signals at synapses.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.