Thomas G. Oertner

Institute for Synaptic Physiology
Center for Molecular Neurobiology Hamburg (ZMNH)
Falkenried 94
20251 Hamburg, Germany


Curriculum vitae

1996: Diploma in Biology at the Albert Ludwigs Universität, Freiburg

1997-99: PhD thesis in Alexander Borst's lab at the Friedrich-Miescher-Laboratory in Tübingen (Max Planck Society). I investigated calcium signaling in visual interneurons of the blowfly and in isolated neurons of the locust. During my PhD, I was a member of the "Graduiertenkolleg Neurobiologie Tübingen".

2000-03: Postdoc in Karel Svoboda's lab in Cold Spring Harbor, NY. To investigate release probabilities and response amplitudes at single synapses, I measured postsynaptic calcium transients in single spines by two-photon laser-scanning microscopy. Experience the beautiful spatial and temporal resolution of this technique in a movie of postsynaptic calcium signals. This project was supported by the Swartz Foundation. Historic pictures of the Cold Spring Harbor Climbing Club have been archived by Emiliano Rial-Verde.

2003-11: Research group leader at the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel, part of the Novartis Research Foundation. To stimulate individual cells in intact tissue, we started using variants of the light-gated ion channel Channelrhodopsin-2 as well as two-photon glutamate uncaging. With these techniques, we discovered that mGluR-dependent depression is restricted to spine synapses containing a 'spine apparatus'. We also found evidence for very strong depolarization of individual spines during synaptic transmission, an indication of electrical isolation of dendritic spines from their parent dendrites. Big thanks to our longtime collaborators Benny Bettler in Basel, Peter Hegemann in Berlin, and Eric Schreiter at HHMI's Janelia Farm! Historic lab pictures can be found here, as well as our first realistic model of consciousness.

2005-2014: Faculty of the summer course 'Neurobiology' at the MBL in Woods Hole, MA. I highly recommend the Woods Hole courses! (fried squid - mmm!) I've also been involved with the Cold Spring Harbor Course 'Imaging Structure & Function in the Nervous System' - they get the most amazing equipment for the students to play with!

Since October 2011: Professor for Neuroscience at the University of Hamburg. Director of the Institute for Synaptic Physiology at the Center for Molecular Neurobiology Hamburg (ZMNH). Here's the current team at the FENS meeting in Berlin. Brenna Fearey (top row, middle) won the Best Poster Prize - congratulations!

We are going to be at the FENS/CAJAL course 'Biosensors and actuators for cellular and systems neuroscience' in Bordeaux this Summer!


We have deposited a number of neuron-specific optogenetic tools on Addgene, including

Other published constructs are available on request.

In the News

SynTagMA, a new tool to label high Ca2+ spines. Green are inactive spines, magenta active, cyan blobs are the presynaptic terminals we activated with Channelrhodopsin. Silver spheres are regions of interest, automatically detected. This piece of tissue is alive, not fixed!


  1. Perez-Alvarez A*, Fearey B*, Schulze C, O'Toole RJ, Moeyaert B, Mohr MA, Arganda-Carreras I, Yang W, Wiegert JS, Schreiter ER, Gee CE, Hoppa MB, Oertner TG (2019) Freeze-frame imaging of synaptic activity using SynTagMA
    bioRxiv, February 2019, DOI 10.1101/538041.
  2. Dürst CD, Wiegert JS, Schulze C, Helassa N, Kerruth S, Coates C, Geeves M, Török K, Oertner TG (2019) High-speed imaging of glutamate release with genetically encoded sensors.
    Nature Protocols, 15 April 2019,
  3. Kerruth S, Coates C, Dürst CD, Oertner TG, Török K (2019) The kinetic mechanisms of fast-decay red-fluorescent genetically-encoded calcium indicators.
    J Biol Chem. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA118.004543.
  4. Yin S, Schulze C, Oertner TG (2018) Strong diffusional coupling between spines and dendrites promotes long-term potentiation of Schaffer collateral synapses.
    bioRxiv 435446; doi:
  5. Moeyaert B, Holt G, Madangopal R, Perez-Alvarez A, Fearey BC, Trojanowski NF, Ledderose J, Zolnik TA, Das A, Patel D, Brown TA, Sachdev RNS, Eickholt BJ, Larkum ME, Turrigiano GG, Dana H, Gee CE, Oertner TG, Hope BT, Schreiter ER (2018) Improved methods for marking active neuron populations.
    Nat Commun. 9(1):4440. *equal contribution
  6. J. S. Wiegert, M. Pulin, C. E. Gee, T. G. Oertner (2018) The fate of hippocampal synapses depends on the sequence of plasticity-inducing events.
    Elife 7. pii: e39151.
  7. Gromova KV, Muhia M, Rothammer N, Gee CE, Thies E, Schaefer I, Kress S, Kilimann MW, Shevchuk O, Oertner TG, Kneussel M (2018) Neurobeachin and the kinesin KIF21B are critical for endocytic recycling of NMDA receptors and regulate social behavior.
    Cell Rep. 23(9):2705-2717.
  8. N. Helassa*, C. Dürst*, C. Coates, S. Kerruth, U. Arif, C. Schulze, J. S. Wiegert, M. Geeves, T. G. Oertner, K. Török (2018) Ultrafast glutamate sensors resolve high-frequency release at Schaffer collateral synapses. PNAS 115(21):5594-5599.
  9. J. Wietek, S. Rodriguez-Rozada, J Tutas, F Tenedini, C Grimm, T. G. Oertner, P Soba, P Hegemann, J. S. Wiegert (2017) Anion-conducting channelrhodopsins with tuned spectra and modified kinetics engineered for optogenetic manipulation of behavior.
    Sci Rep. 7(1):1495. Supplemental Information
  10. S. H. Bitzenhofer, J. Ahlbeck, A Wolff, J. S. Wiegert, C. E. Gee, T. G. Oertner, I. L. Hanganu-Opatz (2017) Layer-specific optogenetic activation of pyramidal neurons causes beta-gamma entrainment of neonatal networks.
    Nat Commun. 8:14563.
  11. J. S. Wiegert, C. E. Gee, T. G. Oertner (2017) Stimulating Neurons with Heterologously Expressed Light-Gated Ion Channels. Cold Spring Harb Protoc. doi:10.1101/pdb.top089714.
    Download complete protocol.
  12. C. E. Gee, I. Ohmert, J. S. Wiegert, T. G. Oertner (2017) Preparation of Slice Cultures from Rodent Hippocampus. Cold Spring Harb Protoc. doi:10.1101/pdb.prot094888
  13. J. S. Wiegert, C. E. Gee, T. G. Oertner (2017) Viral Vector-Based Transduction of Slice Cultures. Cold Spring Harb Protoc. doi:10.1101/pdb.prot094896
  14. J. S. Wiegert, C. E. Gee, T. G. Oertner (2017) Single-Cell Electroporation of Neurons. Cold Spring Harb Protoc. doi:10.1101/pdb.prot094904
  15. N. Takahashi, T. G. Oertner, P. Hegemann, M. E. Larkum (2016) Active cortical dendrites modulate perception.
    Science 354(6319), 1587-1590. Supplemental Material
  16. J. S. Wiegert, T. G. Oertner (2016) How (not) to silence long-range connections with light. (News and Views) Nature Neuroscience 19(4), 527-528.
  17. C. E. Gee, T. G. Oertner (2016) Pull out the stops for plasticity. (News and Views) Nature 529, 164-165.
  18. J. Wietek, R. Beltramo, M. Scanziani, P. Hegemann, T. G. Oertner, J. S. Wiegert (2015) An improved chloride-conducting channelrhodopsin for light-induced inhibition of neuronal activity in vivo.
    Scientific Reports 5, 14807.
  19. U. Scheib, K. Stehfest, C. E. Gee, H. G. Körschen, R. Fudim, T. G. Oertner, P. Hegemann (2015) The rhodopsin-guanylyl cyclase of the aquatic fungus Blastocladiella emersonii enables fast optical control of cGMP signaling.
    Science Signaling 8, rs8.
  20. J. S. Wiegert, T. G. Oertner (2015) Neighborly synapses help each other out. (News and Views) Nature Neuroscience 18, 326–327.
  21. C. Blumer, C. Vivien, C. Genoud, A. Perez-Alvarez, J. S. Wiegert, T. Vetter, T. G. Oertner (2014) Automated analysis of spine dynamics on live CA1 pyramidal cells.
    Medical Image Analysis 19, 87–97. Correlative 2P/EM datasets
  22. J. Wietek , J. S. Wiegert, N. Adeishvili, F. Schneider, H. Watanabe, S. P. Tsunoda, A. Vogt, M. Elstner, T. G. Oertner, P. Hegemann (2014) Conversion of Channelrhodopsin into a light-gated chloride channel.
    Science 344(6182):409-412. Supplemental material. Highlight in Nature Methods. Perspectives in Science.
  23. T. G. Oertner (2014) Active dendrites under parental supervision. (Preview) Neuron 81, 1217-1219.
  24. J. S. Wiegert, T. G. Oertner (2013) Long-term depression triggers the selective elimination of weakly integrated synapses.
    PNAS 110(47): E4510-E4519.
  25. T. Rose, P. Schoenenberger, K. Jezek, T. G. Oertner (2013) Developmental refinement of vesicle cycling at Schaffer collateral synapses.
    Neuron 77(6): 1109-21. Supplement
  26. Oertner TG, Helmchen F, de Lecea L, Beck H, Konnerth A, Kaupp B, Knöpfel T, Yawo H, Häusser M (2013) Optogenetic analysis of mammalian neural circuits.
    In: Hegemann P & Sigrist S (Eds.), Optogenetics (pp. 109-126). Berlin: De Gryter. ISBN: 978-3-11-027072-3.
  27. D. Huber, D. A. Gutnisky, S. Peron, D. H. O’Connor, J. S. Wiegert, L. Tian, T. G. Oertner, L. L. Looger, K. Svoboda (2012) Multiple dynamic representations in the motor cortex during sensorimotor learning.
    Nature 484,473–478. Supplement
  28. J. Hao, T. G. Oertner (2012) Depolarization gates spine calcium transients and spike-timing-dependent potentiation. (Review)
    Current Opinion in Neurobiology 22: 509–515.
  29. T. G. Oertner (2011) The Lego-logic of optogenetics. (News and Views) Nature Methods 8(12): 2011-1013.
  30. C. Blumer, C. Vivien, T. G. Oertner, T. Vetter (2011) Fluorescence image segmentation by using digitally reconstructed fluorescence images.
    Proceedings of the Sixth Workshop on Microscopic Image Analysis with Applications in Biology (MIAAB 2011), Heidelberg.
  31. A. Berndt, P. Schoenenberger, J. Mattis, K. M. Tye, K. Deisseroth, P. Hegemann, T. G. Oertner (2011) High-efficiency Channelrhodopsins for fast neuronal stimulation at low light levels.
    PNAS 108 (18) 7595-7600.
    See also Research Highlight in Nature Methods 8(6), June 2011.
  32. J. S. Wiegert, T. G. Oertner (2011) Shapeshifting for memory: Biochemical and electrical signaling in dendritic spines. (Review)
    e-Neuroforum 2011(2): 6-12.
    German version: Neuroforum 1/11: 12-20.
  33. M. Stierl, P. Stumpf, D. Udwari, R. Gueta, R. Hagedorn, A. Losi, W. Gärtner W, L. Petereit, M. Efetova, M. Schwarzel, T.G. Oertner, G. Nagel, P. Hegemann (2011) Light-modulation of cellular cAMP by a small bacterial photoactivated adenylyl cyclase, bPAC, of the soil bacterium Beggiatoa.
    J Biol Chem. 286(2):1181-8.
  34. N. Holbro, A. Grunditz, J. S. Wiegert, T. G. Oertner (2010) AMPA receptors gate spine Ca2+ transients and spike-timing-dependent potentiation.
    PNAS 107 (36) 15975-80.
  35. N. Guetg, S.A. Aziz, N. Holbro, R. Turecek, T. Rose, S. Riad, M. Gassmann, S. Moes, P. Jenoe, T.G. Oertner, E. Casanova, B. Bettler (2010) NMDA Receptor-Dependent GABAB Receptor Internalization via CaMKII Phosphorylation of Serine 867 in GABAB1.
    PNAS 107 (31) 13924-29.
  36. P. Schoenenberger, Y.P. Zhang Schärer, T. G. Oertner (2010) Channelrhodopsin as a tool to study synaptic transmission and plasticity. (Review)
    Exp Physiol 96.1: 34-39.
  37. J. Krol, V. Busskamp, I. Markievicz, M. B. Stadler, S. Ribi, J. Richter, J. Duebel, S. Bicker, H.J. Fehling, D. Schubeler, T. G. Oertner, G. Schratt, M. Bibel, B. Roska, W. Filipowicz (2010) Characterizing light-regulated retinal microRNAs reveals rapid turnover as a common property of neuronal microRNAs.
    Cell 141(4): 618-31.
  38. P. Schoenenberger, D. Gerosa, T. G. Oertner (2009) Temporal control of immediate early gene induction by light.
    PLoS ONE 4(12): e8185. | doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008185
  39. N. Holbro, A. Grunditz, T. G. Oertner (2009) Differential distribution of endoplasmic reticulum controls metabotropic signaling and plasticity at hippocampal synapses.
    PNAS 106: 15055-15060. S.I.
  40. T. G. Oertner (2009) How do synapses measure milliseconds?
    Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, April 2009, Volume 3, Article 7.
  41. A. Grunditz, N. Holbro, L. Tian, Y. Zuo, T. G. Oertner (2008) Spine neck plasticity controls postsynaptic calcium signals through electrical compartmentalization.
    Journal of Neuroscience 28(50): 13457-66. S1 S2 S3 S4 NEURON model
  42. Y-P. Zhang, N. Holbro, T. G. Oertner (2008) Optical induction of plasticity at single synapses reveals input-specific accumulation of aCaMKII.
    PNAS 105(33): 12039-44. S.I.
  43. P. Schoenenberger, A. Grunditz, T. Rose, T. G. Oertner (2008) Optimizing the spatial resolution of Channelrhodopsin activation.
    Brain Cell Biology 36(1-4): 119-27.
  44. Y-P. Zhang, T. G. Oertner (2007) Optical induction of synaptic plasticity using a light-sensitive channel.
    Nature Methods 4(2): 139-141.
  45. R. Vigot, S. Barbieri, H. Bräuner-Osborne, R. Turecek, R. Shigemoto, YP. Zhang, R. Lujan, L.H. Jacobson, B. Biermann, JM. Fritschy, CM. Vacher, M. Müller, G. Sansig, N. Guetg, J.F. Cryan, K. Kaupmann, M. Gassmann M, T.G. Oertner, B. Bettler (2006) Differential compartmentalization and distinct functions of GABA(B) receptor variants.
    Neuron 50(4): 589-601.
  46. T. G. Oertner (2006) The bright side of life. (Book review) Nature 440, 280-280.
  47. T. G. Oertner, A. Matus (2004) Calcium regulation of actin dynamics in dendritic spines. (Review)
    Cell Calcium 37(5): 477-482.
  48. I. Brunig, S. Kaech, H. Brinkhaus, T.G. Oertner, A. Matus (2004) Influx of extracellular calcium regulates actin-dependent morphological plasticity in dendritic spines.
    Neuropharmacology 47(5): 669-676.
  49. R. Yasuda, E. A. Nimchinsky, V. Scheuss, T. A. Pologruto, T. G. Oertner, B. L. Sabatini, K. Svoboda (2004) Imaging calcium dynamics in small neuronal compartments.
    Science STKE Vol. 2004 (219), pl5.
  50. E. A. Nimchinsky, R. Yasuda, T. G. Oertner, K. Svoboda (2004) The number of glutamate receptors opened by synaptic stimulation in single hippocampal spines.
    Journal of Neuroscience 24: 2054-2064.
  51. T. G. Oertner (2002) Functional imaging of single synapses in brain slices.
    Experimental Physiology 87.6, 733-736.
  52. T. G. Oertner, K. Svoboda (2002) Subliminal messages in hippocampal pyramidal cells. (Perspectives)
    Journal of Physiology 543(2): 397.
  53. T. G. Oertner, B. L. Sabatini, E. A. Nimchinsky, K. Svoboda (2002) Facilitation at single synapses probed with optical quantal analysis.
    Nature Neuroscience 5 (7): 657-664.
  54. B. L. Sabatini, T. G. Oertner, K. Svoboda (2002) The life cycle of Ca2+ ions in dendritic spines.
    Neuron 33: 439-452.
  55. T. G. Oertner, T. M. Brotz, A. Borst (2001) Mechanisms of dendritic calcium signaling in fly neurons.
    Journal of Neurophysiology 85 (1): 439-447.
  56. T. G. Oertner (2000) Mechanismen dendritischer Kalziumdynamik: Eine in-vitro-Studie an Insektenneuronen. (Dissertation)
    Medien Verlag Köhler, Tübingen, ISBN 3-932694-66-X
  57. T. G. Oertner, S. Single, A. Borst (1999) Separation of voltage- and ligand-gated calcium influx in locust neurons by optical imaging.
    Neuroscience Letters 274 (2): 95-98.

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