Supervisory authorities


Presentation of the institute



Synaptic Plasticity and Super-Resolution Microscopy

Team leader: U. Valentin Nägerl

Valentin Nägerl is a full professor of neuroscience and bio-imaging at the University of Bordeaux and heads a research group at the Interdisciplinary Institute for NeuroScience of the CNRS/University of Bordeaux.

He studied physics and medicine as an undergraduate at the University of Göttingen (1991-94) and at the University of California in Los Angeles (1994-95). He got a PhD degree in neuroscience from UCLA (1995-2000) in the lab of Istvan Mody. He then worked as a postdoc (2001-2004) and group leader (2005-2008) with Tobias Bonhoeffer at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology. In 2009 he received his habilitation in neuroscience from the Technical University of Munich (with Arthur Konnerth). In 2007 he worked with Stefan W. Hell (Nobel Prize for Chemistry 2014) at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, where he learned STED microscopy.

In 2009 he set up his group in Bordeaux, working on synaptic plasticity in the mammalian brain using a combination of super-resolution microscopy and electrophysiology aided by tools from molecular genetics.

He has received several awards and distinctions, including a ’Chair of Excellence’ from the regional government of Aquitaine, an Avenir grant from Inserm, a ’Chair of Excellence’ from the French National Research Agency (ANR), and an HFSP project grant.

He is a member of the editorial board of Neurophotonics and Biophysical Journal.

Contact: Valentin Nagerl, tel. +33 (0)5 33 51 47 07 (office) or +33 (0)6 75 46 95 35 (mobile)

Address: Institut Interdisciplinaire de NeuroSciences (IINS)
UMR 5297 CNRS/Université de Bordeaux
Bâtiment Bordeaux Neurocampus
146 rue Léo Saignat
33077 Bordeaux, France

Research focus

The biology of synapses is an extremely productive and interdisciplinary scientific endeavor, harboring central questions of cell biology and neuroscience. Synapses are physical sites of intercellular contact that transmit and transform information in a very rapid and flexible way, playing a pivotal role for learning and memory formation as well as neurological diseases of the mammalian brain.

Since synapses are tiny and densely packed in light-scattering brain tissue, understanding their dynamic behavior in mechanistic terms under physiological conditions is a serious experimental challenge.
Fortunately, recent technological innovations, particularly in labeling and live-cell imaging techniques, are helping to break new ground. The advent of fluorescence microscopy beyond the diffraction limit has opened up huge experimental opportunities to directly image and resolve key physiological signaling events inside single synapses in intact brain tissue, a possibility which was considered a pipedream until recently.

Our group is invested in harnessing these exciting technological developments to study synapses in their natural habitat and under realistic conditions, aiming to better understand higher brain function and disorders in terms of the underlying synaptic mechanisms.

To this end, we are applying novel super-resolution microscopy approaches (STED microscopy), giving us a much more complete and refined view of the dynamic behavior and plasticity of neuronal synapses and their interactions with glia cells inside living brain slices. This approach is complemented by a combination of 2-photon imaging & photoactivation and patch-clamp electrophysiology aided by tools from molecular genetics.

Key Publications

Chereau R, Saraceno G, Angibaud J and Nägerl UV
Super-resolution imaging reveals activity-dependent plasticity of axon morphology linked to changes in action potential conduction velocity
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2017 Jan 23

Tonnesen J, Katona G, Rozsa B and Nägerl UV
Spine neck plasticity regulates compartmentalization of synapses
Nature Neuroscience 17(5):678-85 (2014)

Bethge P, Chéreau R, Avignone E, Marsicano G and Nägerl UV
Two-photon excitation STED microscopy in two colors in acute brain slices
Biophysical Journal 104(4): 778-785 (2013)

Becker N, Wierenga CJ, Fonseca R, Bonhoeffer T and Nägerl UV
LTD induction causes morphological changes of presynaptic boutons and reduces their contacts with spines
Neuron 60, 590-597 (2008)

Nägerl UV, Willig KI, Hein B, Hell SW & Bonhoeffer T
Live-cell imaging of dendritic spines by STED microscopy
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 105, 18982-18987 (2008)

Nägerl UV, Eberhorn N, Cambridge, SB and Bonhoeffer T
Bidirectional activity-dependent morphological plasticity in hippocampal neurons
Neuron 44, 759-767 (2004)