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Diseases of the central nervous system (e.g. Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, depression) are steadily becoming more prevalent in our society. They represent one of the greatest challenges for our society today because effective therapies are still lacking to combat the pathogenesis and/or progression of these disorders, which are so debilitating to the personality. The primary task of this thematic track is therefore to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying these diseases in order to open up new avenues for therapy, also in the field of neuroregeneration.

Many of these diseases are caused by the interaction of environmental factors (including aging) and genetic factors. For this reason, we are focusing our research on disease-causing genes and also on the influence of environmental factors such as lifestyle, nutrition and stress on the pathogenesis and course of these diseases. In collaboration with university hospitals (Munich, Tübingen, among others) and the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich we are sequencing patients’ genomes to identify disease-associated genes.

These identified genes and their associated signaling pathways are submitted to a detailed systemic-functional analysis in the cellular and animal model, taking into consideration the modulating influence of environmental factors. This creates a comprehensive picture of gene and protein networks that contribute to the pathogenesis of these disorders and form the basis for developing new preventive measures and therapies. One major focus in the field of therapeutic research is stem cell research. Its aim is to be able to replace the nerve cells damaged in the course of the disease.

This systemic approach to elucidating diseases of the central nervous system demands a high degree of interdisciplinarity, which is reflected, among other things, in the diversity of research directions represented in this thematic track: genetics (human genetics, mouse genetics, creation of animal models), behavioral biology, neuro-endocrinology, neuroimaging, cell biology, biochemistry, proteomics, structural biology, systems biology, epidemiology and stem cell research.

Further information

Quotation: Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wurst

"We explore the medical basis of complex, multifactorial neurological and psychiatric diseases. This requires a high level of interdisciplinary research. Internationally, visible and outstanding research results are only possible through the integration of a wide range of methods and different ways of thinking. The HELENA program introduces students to this interdisciplinary and integrative approach to research in an exemplary way."


Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wurst
Helmholtz Zentrum München and TU München

Institutes and Research Units