Erwin Neher is the head of the Department of Membrane Biophysics. He has played a major role in the development of electrophysiological methods for studying synaptic mechanisms, such as the patch clamp technique, capacitance measurement, and amperometry.
The Department of Membrane Biophysics has focussed in recent years on neurotransmitter and hormone release. To this end, special methods to study these processes on the single-cell level had been developed in the 80s and 90s. Two lines of research are being pursued:
1. Capacitance measurements combined with caged-Ca++ stimulation allow one to study kinetic details of the release process. Such measurements can readily be performed on cells from genetically manipulated animals to elucidate the role of specific synaptic molecules, such as SNAP25.
2. Dual whole cell recording in brain slices (Calyx of Held synapse), combined with caged-Ca++ stimulation allows us to describe quantitatively the most relevant synaptic parameters, such as Ca++ sensitivity of the release apparatus and the kinetics of short-term depression. Efforts are underway, to allow the consequences of molecular perturbations, comparable to those in cultured chromaffin cells, to be examined in brain slices.
Main Tasks in this Project: Our role is to contribute with our expertise in electrophysiology. The group has accumulated extensive experience in the functional analysis of presynaptic mechanisms at the Calyx of Held, a special glutamatergic synapse in the brain stem. This synapse allows presynaptic voltage clamp and the loading of the nerve terminal with indictor dyes and caged compounds. The task of the group is to examine synapses from disease models with respect to short-term plasticity features.