Billions of neurons are active in the human brain. They form flexible connections, which can be stabilized during information processing in learning and memory formation, or destabilized in the reverse processes. Professor Amparo Acker-Palmer investigates how migration of neurons and their association into networks are controlled at the molecular level. Her focus is the analysis of signal transduction at the contact sites between neurons, the synapses. The latter form between the dendritic spines of signal-receiving cells and the axons (long processes) of other neurons, which transmit signals. Communication takes place via proteins in the cell membrane. The dendrites and axons contain Eph receptors, which are counted among the receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs), and ephrin ligands. When the receptor and ligand bind, downstream reactions are activated; they can result in synapse formation by closer association or in repulsion. During her work with mice, Acker-Palmer discovered that Eph receptors and ephrin ligands not only influence the formation of neuronal networks, but also control the generation of blood vessels and their networks. Because the neuronal and the vascular networks run parallel in the body, they communicate with each other. Acker-Palmer's findings regarding angiogenesis also pertain to tumour formation, in which blood vessels in particular are bundled.
Her results on cell communication are also relevant for neurology, as the connections affect brain development, play an important role in repairing damaged brain areas, and cause diseases such as Down's syndrome or Alzheimer's when synaptic transmission is defective. "My objective is to develop new therapeutic approaches based on our basic research", reports Acker-Palmer. Her collaboration within the "Macromolecular Complexes" Cluster of Excellence and with numerous research facilities as well as her teaching in English provides students insight into scientific work in interdisciplinary research networks and the application of biochemical, biophysical and cell biological methods.
After studying biology and biochemistry at the University of Valencia, Amparo Acker-Palmer began her doctorate there. As a postdoctoral researcher she worked at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg and in 2001 became head of the junior research group for signal transduction at the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology in Martinsried near Munich. She was offered a professorship at the Goethe University Frankfurt in the "Macromolecular Complexes" Cluster of Excellence in 2007, and since 2009 she has been a member of its board of directors. In 2010, Acker-Palmer received the renowned Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize for Young Researchers awarded by the Association of Friends and Promoters of the Goethe University. In 2011, Acker-Palmer became Head of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology at the faculty of Biological Sciences.
Prof. Dr. Amparo Acker-Palmer
Institute of Cell Biology and Neuroscience
Max-von-Laue-Str. 13 (Biologicum, Flügel A)
60438 Frankfurt am Main
Telephone: +49 (0)69 798 42565