Johannes Letzkus, Ph.D.

Max Planck Research Group Leader


Max Planck Institute for Brain Research

Max-von-Laue-Str. 4
60438 Frankfurt/Main

+49 (0) 69 850033 1430



Electrophysiology, Optogenetics, Behavior

Despite decades of intense research, we still only have a very limited understanding of how even the most investigated brain areas such as primary visual and auditory cortex function. While the structure of these circuits has been described in detail, and sensory physiology experiments have defined important features of stimulus processing such as orientation selectivity and tonotopy, what is currently still lacking is a dissection of how the behavioral requirements of the animal shape these computations on a moment to moment basis. Recent results from us (Letzkus et al., 2011; Wolff et al., 2014) and other labs have shown that these non-sensory signals can strongly affect the computations of circuits in behaving animals. In my lab, we use a combination cell-type specific recording (in vivo 2-photon imaging and electrophysiology) and optogenetic perturbation approaches during learning and attention paradigms to determine mechanistically how the same sensory stimuli are processed in different ways depending on their relevance for instructing the animals’ behavior.


Since 09/2013

Max-Planck Research Group Leader, MPI for Brain Research, Frankfurt, Germany

12/2010 – 08/2013

Independent Investigator, Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, Basel, Switzerland

3/2004 – 09/2007

Neuroscience Ph.D., John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

10/1997 – 02/2002

Biology Major, University of Mainz, Germany


Dalmay, T, Abs E, Poorthuis RB, Hartung J, Pu D, Onasch S, Lozano YR, Signoret-Genest J, Tovote P, Gjorgjieva J, Letzkus JJ (2019) A critical role for neocortical processing of threat memory. Neuron. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2019.09.025

>> Link to PubMed

Pardi MB, Abs E, Letzkus JJ (2019) Disinhibition goes spatial. Neuron 101:994–996.

>> Link to PubMed

Letzkus JJ, Wolff SBE, Lüthi A (2015) Disinhibition, a circuit mechanism for associative learning and memory. Neuron 88:264-76.

>> Link to PubMed

Wolff SBE, Gründemann J, Tovote P, Krabbe S, Jacobson GA, Müller C, Herry C, Ehrlich I, Friedrich RW, Letzkus JJ, Lüthi A (2014) Amygdala interneuron subtypes control fear learning through disinhibition. Nature 509(7501):453-8.

>> Link to PubMed

Letzkus JJ, Wolff SBE, Meyer EMM, Tovote P, Courtin J, Herr C, Lüthi A (2011) A disinhibitory microcircuit for associative fear learning in auditory cortex. Nature 480:331-5.

>> Link to PubMed

Kole MH*, Letzkus JJ*, Stuart GJ (2007) Axon initial segment Kv1 channels control axonal action potential waveform and synaptic efficacy. Neuron 55:633-47. *equal contribution

>> Link to PubMed

Letzkus JJ, Kampa BM, Stuart GJ (2006) Learning rules for spike timing-dependent plasticity depend on dendritic synapse location. J Neurosci 26; 10420-29.

>> Link to PubMed

Editorial and Scientific Advisory Board

Journal Reviewer / Editor:

Cerebral Cortex, Frontiers in Neural Circuits, Frontiers in Synaptic Neuroscience, Hippocampus, Journal of Neurophysiology, Journal of Neuroscience, Nature Neuroscience, Neural Plasticity, Neuron, Neuroscience Letters, PLOS ONE, Science, Scientific Reports

Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds, European Research Council, HFSP, Humboldt Foundation, Israel Science Foundation, Leibniz Association, MQ grants, Swedish Research Council, Swiss National Science Foundation, Vienna Science & Technol. Fund, Wellcome Trust

Awards, Grants and Honor


DFG Heisenberg Professorship


Minna James Heineman Foundation Grant


Human Frontier Science Program fellowship


ERC Starting Grant


Pfizer Prize


Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds fellowship


University Prize from the Adrian and Simone Frutiger Foundation


Ambizione Grant, Swiss National Science Foundation


Frank Fenner PhD Medal


Paxinos-Watson Paper Prize


Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship


Diploma in Biology with Distinction


2014 – 2018

Member of the FENS-Kavli Network of Excellence

Since 2011

Swiss Society for Neuroscience

Since 2009

Society for Neuroscience

Since 2000

German Brain Research Organization