Department Genetics of Learning and Memory

We want to understand the role of the brain for the organization of behaviour. We want to understand specifically how the acquisition, maintenance, and behavioural impact of memory is organised at the levels of molecules, neurons, and neuronal circuits.

We use behaviour experiments on larval and adult Drosophila which provide an experimental handle on these processes, and combine them with transgenic technology that allows us to manipulate brain function in defined circuit elements. To the extent that memory processes are shared between Drosophila and man, as is the case at the genetic level, this inspires biomedical research. Given the numerical simplicity of the Drosophila brain, this also  reveals 'intelligent' minimal-circuit solutions that are interesting from an engineering perspective.

We seek to grasp derived psychological processes – including memory-based expectations – in behavioural terms, and try to understand how these processes are brought about by the brain. This aspect of our research thus combines behavioural analyses with matters of psychology.

This combined approach will extend the scope of the brain sciences towards the psychological domain. Such extension of the ‘assignment’ of the brain sciences towards subjective life – which includes identifying the very limits of this assignment – is one of the central scientific problems of our time.

  • Head


    After graduating in biology at the Free University of Berlin and a research stay at the Ohio State University, Bertram Gerber received his doctorate from the Free University Berlin in 1998, supervised by Randolf Menzel, for his research on olfactory learning in honey bees.

    This was followed until 2000 by a post-doc in the laboratory of Reinhard Stocker at the Université Fribourg, Switzerland. During this time Gerber established the larvae of the fruit fly Drosophila as a model for learning and memory research. He then moved to the University of Würzburg as group leader, joining the department headed by Martin Heisenberg. The research of his group was dedicated to the neurogenetic mechanisms of learning in Drosophila. This included the use optogenetic methods established in Würzburg by André Fiala and Georg Nagel. Discoveries were made on the role of presynaptic proteins in learning, together with Erich Buchner, Birgit Michels and Timo Saumweber. Together with Hiromu Tanimoto and Martin Heisenberg it was recognized that the termination of pain stimuli has a rewarding effect on Drosophila. The underlying phenomenon of timing-dependent valence reversal was confirmed in the following years in collaboration with Ayse Yarali, Christian König, Thomas Niewalda, Paul Pauli, Marta Andreatta, and Markus Fendt as a general principle likewise observed in rats and humans. A further subject of the habilitation in 2005 was the realization, together with Thomas Hendel and Michael Schleyer, that learned behavior is not automatically triggered by learned stimuli, but is expressed 'purposefully' with regard to its expected outcome.

    Following his appointment as Professor of Genetics at the University of Leipzig in 2011, the research group moved to Magdeburg, where Gerber has been head of the Department of Genetics at the Leibniz Institute of Neurobiology since 2012 and holds a professorship for Genetics of Behaviour at Otto von Guericke University. His current research is concerned with the processing of rewarding and punishing stimuli, with the analysis of the synaptic connectome of Drosophila, with the search for drugs to improve memory, and with the representation of psychological occurrences in behavior, such as memory-based 'expectations', and how they come about in the brain.

  • Members


    Prof. Dr. Bertram
    Dr. Christian Kö
    Dr. Birgit
    Dr. Michael
    Dr. Naoko
    PhD students  
    Juliane Thö
    Technical staff members  
    Dr. Thomas
    Heidemarie Wickborn
    Afshin Khalili  


  • Projects


    Our work is based on the insight that the understanding of behaviour and brain function remains incomplete if the entanglement of behaviour, brain activity, and psychological occurrences is not kept in mind. We therefore try to understand how basic psychological processes – for example memory, expectation, knowledge – are reflected in behaviour and how these processes come about in the brain. Our current projects focus on the following questions:

    Pain is unpleasant - but it is 'nice when the pain subsides'. The same applies to rewards, which you would like to get but not want to miss again. What learning effects result from such experiences? How do these learning effects, which are opposite in their valence, come about in the brain?

    By which mechanisms can animals decide to turn a memory into learned behaviour - or not?

    Which higher brain functions can be assigned to the neuronal connections newly discovered in the connectome of Drosophila's 'memory centre'?

    Furthermore, we are working on discovering new substances that improve memory in Drosophila, rodents and potentially also in humans and how these improvements come about.

  • Third Party Funds

    Third Party Funds

    DFG grant (SFB 779)
    "Neurobiology of Motivated Behavior"

    DFG grant
    "Bildung und Abruf von Belohnungs-spezifischen Gedächtnissen"

    DFG grant (FOR 2705)
    "Entschlüsselung eines Gehirn-Schaltkreises: Struktur, Plastizität und Verhaltensfunktion des Pilzkörpers von Drosophila"

    JSPS Overseas Research Fellowships

    Dr. Naoko Toshima

    GIF Young Scientist Grant

    The Role of Dopamine in Timing-Dependent Valence Reversal
    Dr. Michael Schleyer

  • Publications



    Weiglein A, Gerstner F, Mancini N, Schleyer M, Gerber B. 2019. One-trial learning in larval Drosophila. Learning and Memory. 26(4):109-120.

    Gerber B, König C, Fendt M, Andreatta M, Romanos M, Pauli P, Yarali A. 2019. Timing-dependent valence reversal: a principle of reinforcement processing and its possible implications. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. 26:114-120.

    Kudow N, Kamikouchi A, Tanimura T. 2019. Softness sensing and learning in Drosophila larvae. Journal of Experimental Biology.

    Coors A, Brosch M, Kahl E, Khalil R, Michels B, Laub A, Franke K, Gerber B, Fendt M. 2019. Rhodiola rosea root extract has antipsychotic-like effects in rodent models of sensorimotor gating. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 235:320-328.

    Thum AS, Gerber B. 2019. Connectomics and function of a memory network: the mushroom body of larval Drosophila. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 54:146-154.



    Michels B, Zwaka H, Bartels R, Lushchak O, Franke K, Endres T, Fendt M, Song I, Bakr M, Budragchaa T, Westermann B, Mishra D, Eschbach C, Schreyer S, Lingnau A, Vahl C, Hilker M, Menzel R, Kähne T, Leßmann V, Dityatev A, Wessjohann L, Gerber B. 2018. Memory enhancement by ferulic acid ester across species. Science Advances. 4(10).

    Schleyer M, Fendt M, Schuller S, Gerber B. 2018. Associative learning of stimuli paired and unpaired with reinforcement: Evaluating evidence from maggots, flies, bees, and rats. Frontiers in Psychology. 9(AUG).

    König C, Khalili A, Ganesan M, Nishu AP, Garza AP, Niewalda T, Gerber B, Aso Y, Yarali A. 2018. Reinforcement signaling of punishment versus relief in fruit flies. Learning and Memory. 25(6):247-257.

    Saumweber T, Rohwedder A, Schleyer M, Eichler K, Chen Y-C, Aso Y, Cardona A, Eschbach C, Kobler O, Voigt A, Durairaja A, Mancini N, Zlatic M, Truman JW, Thum A, Gerber B. 2018. Functional architecture of reward learning in mushroom body extrinsic neurons of larval Drosophila. Nature Communications. 9(1).

    Henschke JU, Ohl FW, Budinger E. 2018. Crossmodal connections of primary sensory cortices largely vanish during normal aging. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. 10(MAR).



    Chen YC, Mishra D, Gläß S, Gerber B. 2017. Behavioral evidence for enhanced processing of the minor component of binary odor mixtures in larval Drosophila. Frontiers in Psychology. 8(NOV). Available from: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01923

    Eichler K, Li F, Litwin-Kumar A, Park Y, Andrade I, Schneider-Mizell CM, Saumweber T, Huser A, Eschbach C, Gerber B, Fetter RD, Truman JW, Priebe CE, Abbott LF, Thum AS, Zlatic M, Cardona A. 2017. The complete connectome of a learning and memory centre in an insect brain. Nature. 548(7666):175-182. Available from: 10.1038/nature23455

    Almeida-Carvalho MJ, Berh D, Braun A, Chen YC, Eichler K, Eschbach C, Fritsch PMJ, Gerber B, Hoyer N, Jiang X, Kleber J, Klämbt C, König C, Louis M, Michels B, Miroschnikow A, Mirth C, Miura D, Niewalda T, Otto N, Paisios E, Pankratz MJ, Petersen M, Ramsperger N, Randel N, Risse B, Saumweber T, Schlegel P, Schleyer M, Soba P, Sprecher SG, Tanimura T, Thum AS, Toshima N, Truman JW, Yarali A, Zlatic M. 2017. The Ol1mpiad: Concordance of behavioural faculties of stage 1 and stage 3 Drosophila larvae. Journal of Experimental Biology. 220(13):2452-2475. Available from: 10.1242/jeb.156646

    Toshima N. 2017. Nutritional homeostasis and decision-making on feeding behaviour in insects. Hikaku seiri seikagaku. 46-52.

    Paisios E, Rjosk A, Pamir E, Schleyer M. 2017. Common microbehavioral "footprint" of two distinct classes of conditioned aversion. Learning and Memory. 24(5):191-198. Available from: 10.1101/lm.045062.117

    Michels B, Saumweber T, Biernacki R, Thum J, Glasgow RDV, Schleyer M, Chen YC, Eschbach C, Stocker RF, Toshima N, Tanimura T, Louis M, Arias-Gil G, Marescotti M, Benfenati F, Gerber B. 2017. Pavlovian conditioning of larval Drosophila: An illustrated, multilingual, hands-on manual for odor-taste associative learning in maggots. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 11. Available from: 10.3389/fnbeh.2017.00045

    Kudow N, Miura D, Schleyer M, Toshima N, Gerber B, Tanimura T. 2017. Preference for and learning of amino acids in larval Drosophila. Biology Open. 6(3):365-369. Available from: 10.1242/bio.020412

    Gerber B, Aso Y. 2017. Localization, diversity and behavioral expression of associative engrams in Drosophila. Menzel R, editor. In Learning and Memory: A Compreshensive Reference. Oxford: Elsevier Limited. pp. 463-473.



    Croset V, Schleyer M, Arguello JR, Gerber B, Benton R. 2016. A molecular and neuronal basis for amino acid sensing in the Drosophila larva. Scientific Reports. 6:art. no. 34871. Available from: 10.1038/srep34871

    Zwaka H, Münch D, Manz G, Menzel R, Rybak J. 2016. The circuitry of olfactory projection neurons in the brain of the honeybee, Apis mellifera. Frontiers in Neuroanatomy. 10(SEP). Available from: 10.3389/fnana.2016.00090

    Rohwedder A, Wenz NL, Stehle B, Huser A, Yamagata N, Zlatic M, Truman JW, Tanimoto H, Saumweber T, Gerber B, Thum AS. 2016. Four Individually Identified Paired Dopamine Neurons Signal Reward in Larval Drosophila. Current Biology. 26(5):661-669. Available from: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.01.012

    Kleber J, Chen YC, Michels B, Saumweber T, Schleyer M, Kähne T, Buchner E, Gerber B. 2016. Synapsin is required to "boost" memory strength for highly salient events. Learning and Memory. 23(1):9-20. Available from: 10.1101/lm.039685.115



    Niewalda T, Michels B, Jungnickel R, Diegelmann S, Kleber J, Kähne T, Gerber B. 2015. Synapsin determines memory strength after punishment- and relief-learning. Journal of Neuroscience. 35(19):7487-7502. Available from: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4454-14.2015

    Schleyer M, Reid SF, Pamir E, Saumweber T, Paisios E, Davies A, Gerber B, Louis M. 2015. The impact of odor-reward memory on chemotaxis in larval Drosophila. Learning and Memory. 22(5):267-277. Available from: 10.1101/lm.037978.114

    Schleyer M, Miura D, Tanimura T, Gerber B. 2015. Learning the specific quality of taste reinforcement in larval Drosophila. eLife. 2015(4). Available from: 10.7554/eLife.04711.001



    Saumweber T, Cano C, Klessen J, Eichler K, Fendt M, Gerber B. 2014. Immediate and punitive impact of mechanosensory disturbance on olfactory behaviour of larval Drosophila. Biology Open. 3(10):1005-1010. Available from: 10.1242/bio.20149183

    Pamir E, Szyszka P, Scheiner R, Nawrot MP. 2014. Rapid learning dynamics in individual honeybees during classical conditioning. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 8(SEP). Available from: 10.3389/fnbeh.2014.00313

    Chen YC, Gerber B. 2014. Generalization and discrimination tasks yield concordant measures of perceived distance between odours and their binary mixtures in larval Drosophila. Journal of Experimental Biology. 217:2071-2077. Available from: 10.1242/jeb.100966

    Niewalda T, Jeske I, Michels B, Gerber B. 2014. 'Peer pressure' in larval Drosophila?. Biology Open. 3(7):575-82. Available from: 10.1242/bio.20148458

    König C, Schleyer M, Leibiger J, El-Keredy A, Gerber B. 2014. Bitter-sweet processing in larval Drosophila. Chemical Senses. 39(6). Available from: 10.1093/chemse/bju016

    Gerber B, Yarali A, Diegelmann S, Wotjak CT, Pauli P, Fendt M. 2014. Pain-relief learning in flies, rats, and man: Basic research and applied perspectives. Learning and Memory. 21(4):232-252. Available from: 10.1101/lm.032995.113



    Diegelmann S, Preuschoff S, Appel M, Niewalda T, Gerber B, Yarali A. 2013. Memory decay and susceptibility to amnesia dissociate punishment- from relief-learning. Biology Letters. 9(4). Available from: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.1171

    Mishra D, Chen YC, Yarali A, Oguz T, Gerber B. 2013. Olfactory memories are intensity specific in larval Drosophila. Journal of Experimental Biology. 216(9):1552-1560. Available from: 10.1242/jeb.082222

    Diegelmann S, Klagges B, Michels B, Schleyer M, Gerber B. 2013. Maggot learning and synapsin function. Journal of Experimental Biology. 216(6):939-951. Available from: 10.1242/jeb.076208

    Das A, Gupta T, Davla S, Prieto-Godino LL, Diegelmann S, Reddy OV, Raghavan KV, Reichert H, Lovick J, Hartenstein V. 2013. Neuroblast lineage-specific origin of the neurons of the Drosophila larval olfactory system. Developmental Biology. 373(2):322-337. Available from: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2012.11.003

    Schleyer M, Diegelmann S, Michels B, Saumweber T, Gerber B. 2013. 'Decision Making' in larval Drosophila. In Invertebrate learning and memory: Handbook of Behavioral Neuroscience. Pages 41-55: Elsevier. Available from: 10.1016/B978-0-12-415823-8.00005-8

    Mayer LR, Diegelmann S, Abassi Y, Eichinger F, Pflugfelder GO. 2013. Enhancer trap infidelity in Drosophila optomotor-blind. Fly. 7(2). Available from: 10.4161/fly.23657

    Gerber B, Biernacki R, Thum J. 2013. Odor-taste learning Assays in Drosophila larvae. Cold Spring Harbor Protocols. 8(3):213-223. Available from: 10.1101/pdb.prot071639

    Sadanandappa MK, Redondo BB, Michels B, Rodrigues V, Gerber B, VijayRaghavan K, Buchner E, Ramaswami M. 2013. Synapsin function in GABA-ergic interneurons is required for short-term olfactory habituation. Journal of Neuroscience. 33(42):16576-16585. Available from: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3142-13.2013



    Gerber B. 2012. Neurobiologie der Freiheit?. Neuroforum. 18(4):302-303.

    Andreatta M, Fendt M, Mühlberger A, Wieser MJ, Imobersteg S, Yarali A, Gerber B, Pauli P. 2012. Onset and offset of aversive events establish distinct memories requiring fear and reward networks. Learning and Memory. 19(11):518-526. Available from: 10.1101/lm.026864.112

    El-Keredy A, Schleyer M, König C, Ekim A, Gerber B. 2012. Behavioural analyses of quinine processing in choice, feeding and learning of larval Drosophila. PLoS ONE. 7(7). Available from: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040525

    Gerber B. 2012. Is there a neurobiology of the free will? Can neurobiology help to resolve the age-old discussions about freedom, cause and chance?. EMBO Reports. 13(1):17-19. Available from: 10.1038/embor.2011.229



    Eschbach C, Cano C, Haberkern H, Schraut K, Guan C, Triphan T, Gerber B. 2011. Associative learning between odorants and mechanosensory punishment in larval Drosophila. Journal of Experimental Biology. 214(23):3897-3905. Available from: 10.1242/jeb.060533

    Schleyer M, Saumweber T, Nahrendorf W, Fischer B, von Alpen D, Pauls D, Thum A, Gerber B. 2011. A behavior-based circuit model of how outcome expectations organize learned behavior in larval Drosophila. Learning and Memory. 18(10):639-653. Available from: 10.1101/lm.2163411

    Niewalda T, Völler T, Eschbach C, Ehmer J, Chou WC, Timme M, Fiala A, Gerber B. 2011. A combined perceptual, Physico-Chemical, and imaging approach to 'Odour-Distances' suggests a categorizing function of the Drosophila antennal lobe. PLoS ONE. 6(9). Available from: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024300

    Eschbach C, Vogt K, Schmuker M, Gerber B. 2011. The similarity between odors and their binary mixtures in Drosophila. Chemical Senses. 36(7):613-621. Available from: 10.1093/chemse/bjr016

    Saumweber T, Weyhersmüller A, Hallermann S, Diegelmann S, Michels B, Bucher D, Funk N, Reisch D, Krohne G, Wegener S, Buchner E, Gerber B. 2011. Behavioral and synaptic plasticity are impaired upon lack of the synaptic protein SAP47. Journal of Neuroscience. 31(9):3508-3518. Available from: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2646-10.2011

    Chen YC, Mishra D, Schmitt L, Schmuker M, Gerber B. 2011. A behavioral odor similarity "space" in larval Drosophila. Chemical Senses. 36(3):237-249. Available from: 10.1093/chemse/bjq123

    Michels B, Chen YC, Saumweber T, Mishra D, Tanimoto H, Schmid B, Engmann O, Gerber B. 2011. Cellular site and molecular mode of synapsin action in associative learning. Learning and Memory. 18(5):332-344. Available from: 10.1101/lm.2101411

  • Trainings & Internships

    Trainings & Internships

    In the MSc program "Integrative Neuroscience" we are responsible for the lecture "Learning & Memory".

    Furthermore, we organize the lecture "Introduction to nervous systems" in the BSc program "Philosophy-Neurosciences-Cognition".

    For students of these disciplines, as well as for interested psychologists, physicists or computer scientists, we offer research-oriented internships on request.

  • Collaboration with student assistants

    Collaboration with student assistants

    For the realization of our research projects, or for the realization of new and your own research ideas, speculative applications as student/scientific assistant are welcome at any time!


  • Hugo Junkers Award

    Hugo Junkers Award

    Hugo-Junkers Award Ceremony 2018: Prof. Dr. Bertram Gerber (LIN), Prof. Dr. Ludger Wessjohann (IPB), Dr. Birgit Michels (LIN), Prof. Dr. Volkmar Leßmann (OVGU), Dr. Katrin Franke (IPB), Dr. Thomas Endres (OVGU) and Prof. Dr. Alexander Dityatev (f.l.t.r.) took 3rd place in the category "Most innovative projects in basic research" for their Rhodiola research.

    Further information can be found here.

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