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Each nerve cell in mammalian brains communicates with about a thousand other nerve cells. This creates a communication network that is likely one of the most complex networks that we know of. Understanding the rules by which this network is created and by which it operates is one of the current questions in neuroscience. MORITZ HELMSTAEDTER studies this connectivity and he is particularly interested in how the cerebral cortex is wired up in mammalian brains. As he explains in this video, the researchers use highly advanced electron microscopy to create a three-dimensional image dataset from which they reconstruct the network structure of the brain. They found, in contrast to popular opinion, that the wiring in the cerebral cortex of mammals is not random but that neurons decide whom to contact and which neurons should go when. That the mammalian cortex has this level of precision is an important insight for further studies and could be helpful in the study of psychiatric diseases.


Moritz Helmstaedter is Director at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research. Before this appointment, he was Research Group Leader and Principal Investigator at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology. His research field is connectomics, the mapping of neuronal circuits using electron microscopy and machine learning.


Max Planck Institute for Brain Research

The Max Planck Institute for Brain Research is a fundamental research and scientific training institution focused on understanding the brain. The human brain is a formidably complex machine, composed of about one hundred billion neurons and trillions of connections, or synapses between them. Out of such a system, as if magically, arise perception, behavior and thought. The brain is often described as the "most complex machine in the known universe".

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Original publication

Axonal Synapse Sorting in Medial Entorhinal Cortex

Schmidt Helene, Gour Anjali, Straehle Jakob, Boergens Kevin M., Brecht Michael and Helmstaedter Moritz
Published in 2017

webKnossos: Efficient Online 3D Data Annotation for Connectomics

Boergens Kevin M., Helmstaedter Moritz, Berning Manuel, Bocklisch Tom, Bräunlein Dominic, Drawitsch Florian, Frohnhofen Johannes, Herold Tom, Otto Philipp, Rzepka Norman, Werkmeister D. W., Wiese G. and Wissler H.
Nature Methods
Published in 2017

SynEM, Automated Synapse Detection for Connectomics

Gour Anjali, Boergens Kevin M., Helmstaedter Moritz, Berning Manuel, Staffler Benedikt and van der Smagt Patrick
Published in 2017