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RG Münster-Wandowski: The brain’s extracellular matrix

Our mission is to better understand the morphological homeostasis of brain ECM during embryonic and postnatal development and how ECM composition abnormalities causes brain dysfunction.

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The brain’s extracellular matrix

Brain extracellular matrix (ECM) is the complex network of proteoglycans and small fibrous proteins that surrounds cells within a tissue, and is essentially located in perineuronal nets, basal lamina and neuronal interstitial matrix.

Our mission is to better understand the morphological homeostasis of brain ECM during embryonic and postnatal development and how ECM composition abnormalities causes brain dysfunction.

Considering the fragile structure of ECM – electron microscopy, particularly, Immunoelectron microscopy has strategic role in the morphological diagnosis of intercellular brain architecture and this approach is the main focus of our working group.

Research goals

Our research focuses on ultrastructural analysis, dynamic and alterations in the brain’s ECM composition during embryonic and postnatal development and in neural pathologies.

ECM is a complex network of material, in particular, proteins and polysaccharides that are secreted locally by cells and remain closely associated with these to provide structural and adhesive support. However, the ECM is much more than a passive mechanical structure - ECM dynamically regulates cellular phenotypes, including a diverse cellular processes in development, homeostasis, and disease progression.

The brain’s ECM presents particularities that differentiate it from the systemic ECM. Primarily, the brain is the most complex and a well-structured organ with highly defined stromal space essentially located in perineuronal nets (PNNs), basal lamina, and neuronal interstitial matrix. Structurally, brain ECM supports and facilitates the organization of neural cells in the central nervous system, stabilizing synapses and regulating synaptic plasticity. Moreover, brain ECM is tightly linked to axon development and myelination. In addition brain ECM is essential for dynamic, reciprocal dialogue between the various cellular components (e.g. neuronal, glial, fibroblast, endothelial elements). The brain’s ECM therefore offers an indispensable platform for neural-vascular-glial communication.

Considering the fragile structure of ECM - electron microscopy (Elektronenmikroskopie) seems to be the method of choice for the analysis of ECM morphology. Furthermore, Immunoelectron microscopy enables, in addition to descriptive ultrastructural analysis, monitoring of morphological alterations of unique extracellular components that provides both architectural support and molecular signals to cells and modulate their behaviors during development as well as in pathological conditions.

Working hypothesis

Extracellular matrix as an active and dynamic structure surrounding cells regulates tissue shape during neural development, controls microvascular perfusion in the brain and contributes significantly to the endothelial brain-blood-barrier function.



In order to obtain a well-preserved brain ECM and its antigenicity and to analyze the distribution pattern of brain’s ECM components our team apply combination of High Pressure Freezing as a fixation method, freeze-substitution and pre-/postembedding immunogold labeling. (Elektronenmikroskopie)


  • • PD Dr. Antje Ludwig, Center for Cardiovascular Research, Charité Berlin
  • • PhD, MD, Matthew Kraushar, Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, Berlin
  • • Prof. Dr. Ulrich Keilholz, Comprehensive Cancer Center, Charité Berlin
  • • Prof. Dr. Christian Rosenmund, Institute of Neurophysiology, Charité Berlin
  • • Prof. Dr. Britta Eickholt, Institute of Biochemistry, Charité Berlin