The institute was established in Hannover in 1979 to supersede the Max-Planck-Institute of Cell Biology in Wilhelmshaven. At the present time, the two main areas of research are molecular developmental biology and neuroendocrinology.
The molecular developmental biology group examines mechanisms of morphogenesis in the vertebrate embryo, with a focus on limb and brain development. Closely related to this topic are investigations into abnormal morphogenesis resulting from either environmental agents or genetic defects. A particular emphasis is placed on the study of homologues of human genes which, when mutated, cause developmental abnormalities in humans. Examples of developmental defects studied at the institute include those that arise from the treatment of embryos with vitamin A compounds or the introduction of mutations into genes encoding for signal transduction proteins. The aim of these efforts is to discover how genes and signalling molecules control embryonic development. Such insights will, in turn, help advance the understanding of the causes of dysmorphogenesis and other developmental abnormalities.
Current research projects include the investigation of limb development in vertebrates, especially the role of growth factors, transcription factors and regulatory enzymes in limb morphogenesis. In addition, mechanisms of cell migration during brain development are being determined, with a focus on the development of the cerebral cortex. Finally, researchers at the institute study the role of hormone receptors during embryogenesis.
The group of Dr. Gonzalo Alvarez-Bolado studies the way in which genes influence the development of structure and function in the mouse brain. Some of their favorite models are neuronal nuclei found in the hypothalamus and in the hippocampus. A second topic of interest is the mapping of gene expression data on the developing and adult mouse brain.
The research group neuroendocrinology deals mainly with questions concerning enzymatic degradation of peptide signalling substances. These investigations serve to define the complex mechanisms of peptide communication systems. In addition, ongoing studies carried out in the pituitary gland should contribute to understanding the basic question of how the brain communicates with the body and how central nervous stimuli are converted into hormonal impulses.
A second neuroendocrinology topic concerns the molecular basis of circadian rhythms in mammals. Here the focus is on elucidating the complex interplay of regulatory proteins that control the circadian clock in mammals. In addition, efforts are being undertaken to uncover the link between the immune system and the circadian clock. Such studies may shed light on the mechanism of the well-known but poorly understood circadian control of immune functions.
The group of Dr. Michael Leitges works in the area of signal transduction focusing on protein kinases (PKCs). To determine the specific functions of each of the 11 known PKCs, Leitges and coworkers use gene targeting in mice.
Most of the above topics are investigated using biochemical, molecular biological and genetic approaches. This includes protein purification, isolation of genes from libraries, protein interaction screens and the development of transgenic mouse models.
High-throughput gene expression analyses are carried out using the in-situ hybridization technique. The recently developed "GenePaint System" makes it possible to determine gene expression patterns on a genome-wide scale using in situ hybridization. In the next years this approach is being used to define sites of expression of physiologically and pharmacologically important genes.
Max-Planck-Institut für experimentelle Endokrinologie
Further information: http://www.endo.mpg.de/