Principal Investigator

Project management

After studying social managment, I started working at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in 2010. First in the Cardiac Surgery Research Laboratory, from 2011 in the Medical Faculty. During this time, I completed a master`s degree in business consulting and project management. In March 2021, I switched to the Institute of Developmental Neurophysiology. Here I am responsible for administration, finance and the research group FOR5159 as coordinator. In my free time I run around the lake, take care of my animals and relax in the garden.

Team “Juvenile development”

Building on the primary focus of the Institute for Developmental Neurophysiology, the investigation of the origin and significance of oscillatory brain activity in perinatal age, a new branch of the project with a focus on adolescent brain development has emerged. The brain shows increased plasticity not only in the early stages of development, the adolescent phase is also characterized by this. Mature behavioral functions set in during adolescence, especially in cognitive areas. This is accompanied by a renewed reconstruction of structural as well as functional patterns, especially in the prefrontal cortex.

The aim of this research project is to elucidate the underlying mechanisms of this reconstruction, as well as their contribution to the development of functional as well as dysfunctional cognitive abilities. For this purpose, we measure the changes in brain activity in an animal model, both on the oscillatory and neuronal level, simultaneously in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus from childhood to adulthood, and correlate these with morphological changes in different cell populations in the brain. In addition, the developmental stage of cognitive abilities is checked in different age groups with the help of certain behavioral tests and combined with electrophysiological measurements and optogenetic manipulations of neural activity in order to obtain information about a causal relationship.

Specific neuronal populations, which make a critical contribution to the identified mechanisms, are examined in gene expression analyzes using RNA sequencing in both naive and animal models for psychiatric diseases. This comprehensive strategic approach contributes to a better understanding of the sensitivity of the adolescent phase in view of the symptomatic onset of psychiatric illnesses.


jastyn.poepplau [at]
In 2012 I finished my education as technical assistant and started to study Molecular Life Science at the University of Hamburg. As student assistant I learned a lot about the projects of the group and got more and more interested in the processes of brain development. During my master thesis I performed a morphological characterization of distinct neuronal and glial cell populations after network manipulation at neonatal age. Since end of 2017 I started my PhD to identify the contribution of early electrical activity for the cognitive performance at adulthood. In my free time I like to go running with friends and to bake creative cakes.
marilena.hnida [at]
After I finished studying biology and neuroscience at the University of Bremen, I joined the lab in June 2018 to work on my PhD. My research focuses on the contribution of the lateral entorhinal cortex to the disturbed development of the prefrontal-hippocampal network in a mouse model of mental illness. In order to investigate the interactions between the three brain areas during development, I am combining multi-site electrophysiological recordings in awake juvenile mice with behavioral testing and optogenetic modulation.
timo.schwarze [at]
In 2017 I became a medical student at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf. During the preclinical lectures, I became fascinated by the brain as a network. I always wanted to get a look into science at the bench and not just in books and that is why I decided to join the Opatz lab when I met Prof. Ileana Hanganu-Opatz in a mentorship program at my University.
My work mainly consists of immunohistochemistry in which I look into the morphological changes the prefrontal cortex undergoes during adolescence. While doing so, my focus lies on pyramidal neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex and their dendritic and synaptic changes. Another part of my work here are microglial cells and the potential effect on adolescent development they might have.
anton.offermanns [at]
In 2017 I started studying medicine in Hamburg and during my studies my interest in research and especially neuroscience grew. That´s why I decided to pause my studies and joined the Opatz lab in September 2021 for my doctoral thesis. I am investigating the role of Somatostatin- and Parvalbumin-positive interneurons in the prefrontal cortex in development of working-memory during juvenile age. For that I will combine electrophysiology, optogenetics and behavioural testing.
gerrit.thomsen [at]
Shortly after finishing med-school at the University of Saarland I joined the Opatz lab for my medical degree. I always wanted to get a look behind the scenes of basic research, so I decided to dedicate a year to work full time in the lab on my doctoral studies before diving into clinical work. I am working with a mouse model of mental illness and look how changes in the expression of genes contribute to abnormal behavior of cells and circuits in the prefrontal cortex. For that, I combine transcriptome analysis with electrophysiological recordings.
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karolin.buchert [at]
2017 I started studying medicine in the University Medicine Center Hamburg-Eppendorf. During my studies my desire to do research in neuroscience grew, for wich reason I decided to pause it and getting further insight in research work. Hence, I joined the Opatz lab in November 2021. By combining electrophysiologial and behavioral assessments I want to investigate enviromental enriched as well as under control conditions.

Team “Neuronal processing”

Neural activity  in the developing brain has several unique features. It is characterized by long periods of electrical silence that alternate with sporadic bursts of activity, by neurons firing in a highly correlated manner and at extremely low rates and is only weakly modulated by behavioral state. Equally unique are the dynamics with wich neurons interact and communicate, both on a microscopic and macroscopic level. To understand how the logic of neural interactions evolve throughout ontogeny, we investigate the functional development of the prefrontal and primary sensory cortices, of the hippocampus and of subcortial nuclei. Using a variety of analytical and experimental approaches, we investigate the microcircuitry and the long-range communication between these brain areas and their relevance for the emergence of cognitive abilities.


mattia.chini [at]
I studied medicine and surgery at the University of Padova, but never had too much passion for clinics. For this reason, just after my studies, I spent a year in Tononi’s lab investigating sleep function and regulation. Convinced of doing science, in summer 2016 I then joined the Opatz lab for my PhD. My interest is the development of cortical microcircuits in health and disease, with a particular focus on the interneuron side of things. I also have a (nerdy) fascination for the neuro-immune cross talk, and microglial cells in particular, which I give vent to when nobody is looking at me.
[Personal Profile]
henrik.ostby [at]
After completing my master’s in neuroscience at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, which aimed to characterize the role of the serotonergic system in chronic stress resilience, I joined the Opatz-lab in the summer of 2020 as a PhD-student. Here in the Opatz-lab I aim to characterize the developmental trajectory of prefrontal – primary sensory connectivity in early life and its functional importance for later life in models of both health and disease. To investigate this, I combine in vivo multi-site electrophysiological recordings, optogenetic tools, neural circuit tracing techniques and behavioral testing.
irina.pochinok [at]
I studied Applied Mathematics and Informatics, and then worked in software development industry for nine years. 2018, my interest in neuroscience brought me to the University of Bremen where I started the master’s program. In September 2019 I joined the Opatz lab for doing my lab rotation project.
E-mail: [at]
I joined the Opatz lab in Fall 2021 as a PhD student. Previously, I obtained my master’s in neuroscience at the University of Bonn where I looked at hippocampal rate remapping in a mouse model of epilepsy. Here in the Opatz lab, I employ electrophysiological techniques among others to study fronto-striatal network maturation during early postnatal development, both in health and disease, with a further goal to understand Autism. In my spare time, I enjoy fitness, cooking, and being a closet philosopher.

Team “Mental disease”

Abnormal functional connectivity and communication within prefrontal-hippocampal networks has been identified as a fundamental mechanism underlying cognitive deficits in major neuropsychiatric disorders. Clinical observations suggested that this dysfunction emerges early in life, long before the onset of symptoms. Using mice models mimicking the combined genetic and environmental etiology (GE) of psychiatric risk, we recently demonstrated that the initiation of functional communication within prefrontal-hippocampal networks during early development is already disturbed. Our team aims to elucidate the cellular mechanisms accounting for abnormal prefrontal-hippocampal network maturation in neuropsychiatric disorders.


xiaxia.xu [at]
I have a dual education with a bachelor degree in Mathematics and a master and PhD in Neuroscience at Nankai University (China). 2016, I joined the lab for a postdoctoral stage aiming to identify the role of early prefrontal dysfunction for the cognitive performance at adulthood. For this, I combine in vivo electrophysiology, in utero electroporation, optogenetics, digital signal processing and analysis, behavioral testing, etc. Outside the lab, I love physical activities. Walking, running, bouldering and yoga are my favorites.
anne.guenther [at]
I studied Biology at the University of Cologne and I did my PhD in Arnd Baumann’s lab at the Research Center Jülich on the topic of pacemaker channel contribution to neuronal processing and learning behaviors. From 2016 to 2020, I was a postdoc in Thomas Launey’s lab at the RIKEN institute in Tokyo, working on molecular mechanisms underlying cerebellar LTD. I joined the Opatz lab in 2020 to focus on assessing the involvement of microglia in early prefrontal development, specifically in the context of neuropsychiatric disorders.’
E-mail: [at]
The fundamental question I am working in is the neuronal oscillation of prefrontal-hippocampal network in neonatal mice of mental illness. I joined the Optaz Lab in July 2017, after a several years study on neuronal migration and adult neruogenesis. My initial work as a PhD fellow contribute to the understanding of the cellular mechanisms involved in coupling deficits in prefrontal-hippocampal networks in Disc1mutant mice. I use BDA injection, together with immunochemistry staining and electromicroscopy to uncover the how synaptic, cellular and network physiologically interact. My skillset will also combine in utero electroporation, multi-electrode recordings and optogenetic manipulations of prefrontal-hippocampal networks in the mice.
[Personal Profile]
rebecca.kringel [at]
Since 2017 I am studying medicine at the University of Hamburg. During my studies I became more and more interested in neuroscience. Therefore, I decided to join the Opatz lab to work on my doctoral thesis. I look into a mouse model of mental illness, using patch-clamp electrophysiology and immunohistochemistry. In particular, I investigate the functional and structural properties of the lateral entorhinal cortex as well as its connections to the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus.

Team “Cognitive olfaction”

Early sensory processing is mandatory for the functional development of sensory brain areas. However, it is unknown whether early sensory experience shapes the development of cognitive abilities. To address this question, we take advantage of the olfactory system as one of the earliest developed senses. The olfactory system is functional at birth and new born rodents use olfactory information for learning and cue-directed behaviors, critical for their survival. Further, in contrast to input from other sensory modalities, olfactory information reaches cortical areas directly without thalamic relay.  Therefore, the olfactory system is tightly coupled to the hippocampal formation and to the frontal cortex, key structures for cognitive abilities, such as memory and decision making. We investigate the maturation of cognitive areas in relation to the olfactory system and the consequences of developmental impairment of olfactory activity for cognitive abilities.



sebastian.bitzenhofer [at]
I studied Biology at the University of Hannover and Neuroscience at the University of Bremen. After that I joined the Opatz-Lab for my PhD, focused on the development of population activity in the prefrontal cortex. From 2019 to 2021, I did a postdoc with Jeff Isaacson at the University of California in San Diego working on olfactory processing in the entorhinal-hippocampal system. In 2021, I returned to the Opatz-Lab to work on olfactory processing in the context of cognitive tasks.
johanna.kostka [at]
I studied Biophysics at the Humboldt University in Berlin and finished the research master Brain and Cognitive Science at the University of Amsterdam. In 2015 I started my PhD project in this group, which focuses on the question whether early sensory experience shapes neuronal network maturation and promotes later cognitive abilities. In contrast to other sensory modalities the sense of smell is already fully functional at birth and olfactory information reaches higher brain regions without by passing the thalamus. More specifically, I am investigating the influence of mitral cell activity in the olfactory bulb (OB) on the activity patterns of the LEC during early development. For this, I combine in vivo whole-cell patch clamp recordings with extracellular field potential recordings of neonatal mice.
[Personal Profile]
yunan.chen [at]
Since late 2019 I joined the lab for my doctoral project. My main aim is
to investigate how the sensory entrainment of limbic systems is changing over neural development from neonatal to juvenile periods, with electrophysiological recordings. Alongside this, I’m interested in the potential important role of olfactory information processing during neonatal ages for later cognitive maturation. In leisure time, I like audio editing and enjoying a cup of tea. I’m also a fan of Chelsea football club.
[Personal Profile]

Team “Maternal-fetal interactions”

Pregnancy can be considered as a unique immunological adaptation, which is highly vulnerable towards environmental challenges, but simultaneously enabling the investigation of complex interactions between mother and child. Maternal illness during pregnancy can impair the development of the unborn baby and thus predispose the offspring to chronic disease. It is increasingly recognized that such early programming play a critical role in the etiology of various psychiatric and neurological disorders, including intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and schizophrenia. A common feature of these disorders is that the underlying pathological processes begin with the development of the fetus. In close collaboration with Petra Arck (Division for Experimental Feto-Maternal Medicine, UKE), this project combines state-of-the-art neuroscientific and immunological methods to elucidate how maternal immune activation (i.e. by infections, adiposity, stress) determines the health of the developing brain by vertical transfer of cytokines, antibodies, and maternal immune cells.


steven.schepanski [at]
I studied psychology with an emphasis on psychobiology at the University of Bremen and Trier, Germany. After getting in touch with Behavioral Immunobiology (Prof. Schedlowski), I did my PhD as a balancing act between reproductive immunology and neuroscience as a collaboration between Petra Arck and Ileana Hanganu-Opatz. As a postdoctoral researcher, I will continue to elucidate the role of maternal microchimeric cells via multi-parameter flow cytometry, histomorphometry, immunohistochemistry, in vivo electrophysiology, behavioral experiments, genomics, and transcriptomics. Further, we are continuing to translate our results into human pregnancy cohorts.
[Personal Profile]

Team “Neuronal development”

How neurons acquire their morphology is a fundamental topic in developmental neurobiology since the shape of a neuron supplies valuable clues to its function. Little is known about the mechanisms of axon and dendrites specification in vivo and how intracellular and extracellular programs cooperate to define the site of axon elongation and dendrite formation. Furthermore, it is now conceivable that neuronal cytoarchitectural abnormalities might lead to neurological disorders. Therefore, we are particularly interested in understanding how neurons develop axons and dendrites in vivo, in order to gain insight into the cellular and molecular events that may underlie neuropsychiatric diseases.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are neurodevelopmental disorders in which individuals have disrupted social communication and repetitive stereotyped behaviors, which lead to life-long difficulties. Approximately 1% of individuals in Asia, North America and in Europe have an ASD, which demonstrates the need to better understand these disorders, and find effective treatments to improve quality of life. In this regard, one of the key discoveries in recent years is that a person’s genetic blueprint plays a very important role in risk for ASDs. This means that there are genetic risk factors for ASD, and understanding how these genes cause abnormal brain development will help us to better understand the origins of ASDs to develop better treatments.

Recently, a novel recurrent copy number variation (CNV) microdeletion of chromosome 16p11.2 has been identified that carries substantial susceptibility to ASDs. While there are ~30 genes in this interval, the expression of one gene named TAO2 is of particular interest because it has been identified by us that affects basal dendrite formation and axon elongation in pyramidal neurons from the neocortex. This suggests the exciting possibility that TAO2 regulates brain connectivity.


froylan.calderon [at]
praveen.meka [at]
melanie.richter [at]
melad.henis [at]
robin.scharrenberg [at]
shuai.hong [at]
tabitha.rücker [at]

Technical Assistants

annette.marquardt [at]
I work since 2012 as technician in the lab of Prof. Ileana Hanganu-Opatz where I am involved in several projects. My field of work includes the preparation of brain slices mainly from the olfactory bulb, prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, followed by immunhistochemistry and microscopy. Moreover, I am involved in tracing of axonal connections using Fluorogold, Biotinylated dextran amine and Cholera toxin B in young rats and mice. In addition, I am assisting with in utero electroporations, behavioral testing and PCRs. In my spare time I do a lot of sports as a coach in Aerobic and dance or as a member in a tennis team.
peggy.putthoff [at]
I’m working in the lab of Prof. Ileana Hanganu Opatz as a technician since January 2017.
I am involved in the tracing of BDA into the hippocampus in postnatal mice. We want to study the axonal connections from the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex, which I analyze using electron microscopy.
In addition, I am responsible for breeding of various mouse-lines in our group and help with several molecular-biological methods, like plasmid DNA preparations and PCR.
In my free time I like to travel and to go jogging.
Achim Dahlmann
achim.dahlmann [at]
birgit.schwanke [at]


Dr. Joachim Ahlbeck
Dr. Malte Bieler
Dr. Marco D. Brockmann
Dr. Nicole Cichon
Nina Domnick
Nadine Faesel
Dr. Sabine Gretenkord
Dr. Henrike Hartung
Eva Jung
Hanna-Sophie Krüger
Dr. Christoph Lindemann
Miranda Mellendorf
Victoria Oberländer
Mareike Poburski
Dr. Beatrice Pöschel
Magdalena Rados
Samuel Reincke
Stephanie Riemann
Sandra Schildt
Dr. Kay Sieben
Kai Siebert
Veronika Sternemann
Dr. Amy Wolff