Reinhard Jahn is a biochemist known for his work on the structure and function of synaptic vesicles in neurons and the molecular mechanisms of exocytosis and membrane fusion. Jahn was born in Leverkusen/Germany in 1950 and grew up in various places in northern Germany. He graduated with a degree in biology and later (1981) with a Ph.D. (Dr. rer.nat.) from the University of Göttingen. He was a postdoctoral fellow, and later Assistant Professor, in Neuroscience at Rockefeller University, and returned to Germany in 1986 to assume the position of a Junior group leader at the Max-Planck-Institute for Psychiatry in Martinsried near Munich. In 1991, he joined the faculty of Yale University School of Medicine. In 1997, he was appointed as director at the Max-Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany. He is member of the German Academy of Sciences (Leopoldina), of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), and of the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Signaling between neurons is mediated by neurotransmitters that are released by calcium-dependent exocytosis upon arrival of an action potential. Our first goal is to arrive at a molecular description of vesicle docking and membrane fusion at the level of defined protein-protein and protein-membrane interactions and the associated conformational changes. In this regard, the SNARE proteins that function as fusion catalysts take center stage. We primarily use in-vitro approaches involving biochemical and biophysical methods, with the aim of isolating and characterizing partial reactions involved in the fusion pathway. The second goal is to understand better how synaptic vesicles are filled within seconds with thousands of neurotransmitter molecules. This step is critical for neurotransmission but still not well understood. Several years ago, we have developed a quantitative molecular model of synaptic vesicles, providing a solid foundation for quantitative work. Neurotransmitter uptake is mediated by specific transporters in the vesicle membrane that draw the energy for transport from an electrochemical proton gradient across the vesicle membrane. We investigate how osmotic and charge balance is maintained during transport, how the transporters manage to remain operational while vesicular solute composition undergoes dramatic changes, and how the degree of filling that determines quantal size is regulated.

Membership Type

International Member

Election Year


Primary Section

Section 24: Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience