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Max-Planck-Institut für Immunbiologie

History of the Institute

The institute was founded on December 6th, 1961 from an industrial research institute of the company Wander AG in Freiburg. Until the end of the 1970´s, under the directorship of Prof. Dr. Otto Westphal, Prof. Dr. Herbert Fischer and Dr. Otto Lüderitz, the institute was primarily engaged in studying the interactions between infectious agents and the immune system, with special emphasis on the bacterial active substance endotoxin.

With the arrival of Prof. Dr. Klaus Eichmann (1981) and Prof. Dr. Georges Köhler (1984) a new thematic orientation of the institute began to occur. And then, following the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology to Georges Köhler in 1984, special funding from the State of Baden-Württemberg made it possible to establish developmental biology as another scientific focus at the institute with the appointments of Prof. Dr. Davor Solter (1990) and Prof. Dr. Rolf Kemler (1992).

On March 1, 1995, Georges Köhler died unexpectedly after a brief illness, and in 1996 Prof. Dr. Thomas Boehm was appointed as his successor. Efforts toward a stronger cooperation between the institute and Faculty of Biology of the University of Freiburg led to the establishment of the Chair of Molecular Immunology of the Albert Ludwig University at the Institute and the appointment of Prof. Dr. Michael Reth (1998) as its head (as C4-University Professor). In addition, three independent research groups led by junior scientists are associated with the institute under the name Hans Spemann Laboratories.

The scientific identity of the institute is based on making the connection between immunobiology and developmental biology, with the overall goal of achieving a better understanding of how multicellular systems and organisms arise.

Scientific Activities

Field of Immunology

  • Biology of lymphoid organs, especially thymus; evolution of the adaptive immune system
  • Cellular immune system; development, activation, and importance in allergy and infection

Field of Developmental Biology

  • Cell adhesion molecules as morphoregulators; signal transduction pathways in mouse embryonic development
  • Gene expression in preimplantation mouse embryos; molecular basis of genomic imprinting and germ layer formation in mouse embryonic development

Independent junior research groups

  • Identification and visualization of signal transduction cascades in hematopoietic cells
  • MHC class II gene regulation
  • T cell differentiation and CD4/CD8 gene regulation
  • Peripheral T cell survival
  • MLV as tool to elucidate key steps in lymphocyte differentiation

Research Group for Medical Microbiology

  • Mechanisms of endotoxin shock and endotoxin hypersensitivity in infections with gram-negative bacteria
  • Elucidation of the immunopathological mechanisms underlying infection with the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi

Research Group for Zebrafish Development (in the Department of Prof. Dr. Thomas Boehm)

  • Dorsoventral pattern formation
  • Pituitary and craniofacial development
  • Embryonic stem cells

Department of Molecular Immunology of the Institute and of the University of Freiburg

  • Activation and differentiation of B-lymphocytes; structural and functional analysis of the B-cell antigen receptors


Max-Planck-Institut für Immunbiologie
Stübeweg 51
79011 Freiburg im Breisgau
Tel: +49-761-5108-0 (
Fax: +49-761-5108-220

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