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Hermann Cuntz

Bernstein Award for Computational Neuroscience 2013

Tracking neuronal wiring

According to which principles do nerve cells wire together to form small networks in the brain? Is there a basic connection code? In his research, Hermann Cuntz investigates the effects of shape and morphology of nerve cells on the structure and function of neuronal circuits. His tools are theoretical models. With their help, he generates synthetic neurons in the computer and calculates how these cells – starting from their shape – perfectly combine to small networks. In a second approach, he looks at the impact of the circuit´s structure on its own activity and dynamics. In this way, he is able to decipher the relationship between structure and function of neural connections. "For me, the neuronal morphology, meaning the shape of nerve cells, is the starting point to derive general rules about neural connections and functions," the neuroscientist says.

Cuntz previous works have laid the foundations for his theoretical analyses. He has developed a method called "morphological modeling". This method allows him to create nerve cells of diverse shapes – or morphology – in the computer by taking into account certain factors. In the underlying formula, different characteristics are included, such as the number of contact points with neighboring neurons, or the use of shortest feasible paths and as little nerve cell material as possible. "The latter two criteria were already postulated by the Spanish anatomist Ramón y Cajal in the early 19th Century," Cuntz says. "Nowadays, I use it to form anatomically realistic models of neurons and neuronal networks." His synthetic neurons are so lifelike that even neuroanatomists cannot distinguish the artificially generated cells from natural ones. By now, scientists worldwide use the computer software developed by Cuntz for his modeling method to replicate the brain’s structure in major endeavours like the Human Brain Project.

Hermann Cuntz will pursue his questions about the brain’s wiring principles in Frankfurt in cooperation with local scientists at the ESI, the FIAS, and the Goethe University Frankfurt. In this way, he will strengthen the existing Bernstein Focus: Neurotechnology in Frankfurt. In particular, he plans to strengthen his ties with experimental researchers with the aim to further testing and advancing the reliability of his network models and their predictions.



Dr. Hermann Cuntz

Ernst Strüngmann Institute gGmbH

Institute of Clinical Neuroanatomy

Goethe University

Theodor-Stern-Kai 7

Building 27

Tel: (+49)-069-6301-87127