Tobias Bonhoeffer is a neuroscientist who is known for his work on synaptic plasticity and the functional organization of the developing neocortex. He has made a number of important discoveries, such as the pinwheel-like organization of the visual cortex in higher mammals, the growth of new dendritic spines after the induction of synaptic plasticity, and the observation that such structural changes help store information and facilitate later re-learning.
Tobias Bonhoeffer studied physics at the University of Tübingen, Germany, where he also conducted his PhD work at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Biological Cybernetics. After postdocs at the Rockefeller University in New York and the MPI for Brain Research in Frankfurt, Germany, he moved to the MPI of Neurobiology in Munich, where he initially was leader of a research group and later became director. He is also professor at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich. Furthermore, he is member of the German Academy of Sciences, Leopoldina, and the Academia Europaea. Bonhoeffer held a number of leadership positions in the Max Planck Society and he is currently Governor of the Wellcome Trust.

Research Interests

Tobias Bonhoeffer's lab investigates the phenomenon of synaptic plasticity at a number of different levels, ranging from molecular approaches to studies of the intact nervous system. Results from his lab have shown that synaptic plasticity is accompanied by structural changes of dendritic spines, they have demonstrated that these structural changes are the reason why re-learning of information acquired early in life is comparatively easy, and they have revealed in how far the detailed structure of functional maps in the visual cortex is due to experience in the outside world. Currently the lab is expanding these results mainly obtained in vitro or in anesthetized preparations. This is done by studying synaptic plasticity and the accompanying structural and functional changes in behavioral contexts. The lab is employing virtual reality approaches as well as miniaturized one- and two-photon microscopes on behaving animals and is studying category learning, prey capture, and other natural behaviors.
Another focus of the lab is to investigate how the antagonistic principles of plasticity and stability of neural circuits can coexist in the brain and how these two opposing forces are reflected in the rules that govern the changes of neural connections.

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Primary Section

Section 24: Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

Secondary Section

Section 28: Systems Neuroscience