Head of the Group
Prof. Dr. Helmut Kettenmann
31.2: Max Delbrück House (Flachbau)
The central nervous system contains two major cell populations, neurons and glial cells. The neurons are regarded as the elements mediating the electrical activity in the brain. As a consequence, neuroscience research of the past has focused on this cell type. The functional role of glial cells is not as obvious: while they were first described as cells providing only structural support to neurons, a series of more recent studies on glial cell function has attracted the attention of the neuroscience community. It has become evident that glial cells are essential for the proper functioning of the brain. The different types of glial cells fulfil distinct tasks. Oligodendrocytes are the myelin-forming cells of the central nervous system and ensure a rapid signal conduction in the white matter. The role of astrocytes is less well defined; they provide guiding structures during development and represent important elements for controlling the composition of the extracellular space mediating signals between the brain endothelium and the neuronal membrane. They form intimate contact with synapses and neuronal activity results in astrocyte responses. Microglial cells are immuno-competent cells in the brain and their functional role is best defined as the first responsive elements during pathologic events. The present research program is focused on four topics: (1) the role of astrocytes in information processing (2) the impact of connexion expression for oligodendrocytes function (3) the response of microglial cells to brain injury and (4) the interaction of gliomas with microglia and stem cells.