Ordinary Academicians

Wolf Joachim Singer


Wolf Joachim Singer

Date of birth 09 March 1943

Place München, Germany (Europe)

Nomination 18 September 1992

Field Physiology

Title Professor

  • Biography
  • Publications

Most important awards, prizes and academies
Awards: Prize of the IPSEN Foundation (1991); Ernst Jung Prize for Science and Research (1994); Zülch Prize (1994); Hessischer Kulturpreis (1998); Körber Prize for European Sciences (2000); Max Planck Prize for Public Science (2001); La Medaille de la Ville de Paris (2002); Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur (2002); Ernst Hellmut Vits Prize (2002); Krieg Cortical Discoverer Award of the Cajal Club (2003); Betty und David Koetser Prize (2002); Communicator Prize (2003); Hans BergerPrize (2003); Dr. honoris causa, Univ. Oldenburg (2005); Aschoff Prize, Univ. Freiburg (2005); INNS Hebb Award (2006); Dr. honoris causa, Rutgers University (NJ) (2008); Kaloy Prize, University Geneva (2009); Order of Merit (First Class) of the Federal Republic of Germany (2011). Academies: Academia Europaea (1989); Pontifical Academy of Sciences (1992); Berlin-Brandenburgische Academy of Sciences (1993); Scientific Academy of the Johann Wolfgang GoetheUniversity Frankfurt (1993); Bavarian Academy of Sciences (1996); Academia Scientiarum et Artium Europaea (1997); Leopoldina (1999); Member of Collegium Europaeum Jenense, Jena (2002); Honorary Member of the World Innovation Foundation (2005); Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (2006); Consultant of the Pontifical Academy for Culture (2011).

Summary of scientific research
Initially Prof. Wolf Singer's research concentrated on the physiology of thalamic transmission (summarized in Phys. Rev., 1977). Subsequently it turned towards studies of the development and the functional organization of the cerebral cortex using the visual system as a model. This led to a number of discoveries concerning mechanisms of experience-dependent development and synaptic plasticity (summarized in J. Exp. Biol., 1990, and Science, 1995). A new line of research began with the discovery that neurons of the neocortex synchronize their responses within and across cortical areas in a context and goal specific way. This finding has been interpreted as support for the hypothesis that the brain might use synchronization of discharges as a mechanism in order to select neuronal responses, to bind them together into functionally coherent assemblies for joint interpretation and to dynamically associate neurons into specific functional networks. Since then numerous experiments have been performed to test the predictions derived from this hypothesis (reviewed in Annu. Rev. Physiol, 1993, Annu. Rev. Neurosci., 1995, Neuron, 1999, Trends Cogn. Sci., 2001, Neuron, 2006, Trends Neurosci., 2007). This work emphasizes the dynamic nature of cortical processes and provides potential solutions for a wide range of coordination functions related to parallel distributed processing. It was also observed that the occurrence of synchronization is frequently associated with an oscillatory patterning of neuronal responses. This established new links between measurements of oscillatory brain activity in humans and micro-electrode investigations in animals. It also stimulated the search for oscillatory phenomena in general and led to numerous discoveries of oscillatory activity in a wide variety of brain structures of different species. The new approach to search for temporal relations among distributed neuronal responses rather than merely their amplitude revealed that cortical and subcortical networks exhibit surprisingly complex dynamics. It encouraged theoreticians in the field of neuronal computation to apply the methods of non-linear dynamics for the analysis of artificial networks and led to experimentation with models which use this putative coding strategy to resolve problems of dynamic coordination in a host of cognitive and executive functions. Recently this approach has been extended to clinical studies and revealed close correlations between clinical symptoms and disturbances in synchronized oscillatory activity in psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia, autism and Alzheimer.

Main publications
Singer, W., Control of thalamic transmission by cortico-fugal and ascending reticular pathways in the visual system, Physiol. Rev., 57, pp. 386-420 (1977); Rauschecker, J.P. and Singer, W., Changes in the circuitry of the kitten visual cortex are gated by postsynaptic activity, Nature, 280, pp. 58-60 (1979); Kleinschmidt, A., Bear, M.F. and Singer, W., Blockade of NMDA receptors disrupts experience-dependent plasticity of kitten striate cortex, Science, 238, pp. 355-8 (1987); Gray, C.M. and Singer, W., Stimulus-specific neuronal oscillations in orientation columns of cat visual cortex, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 86, pp. 1698-1702 (1989); Gray, C.M., König, P., Engel, A.K. and Singer, W., Oscillatory responses in cat visual cortex exhibit inter-columnar synchronization which reflects global stimulus properties, Nature, 338, pp. 334-7 (1989); Singer, W., The formation of cooperative cell assemblies in the visual cortex, J. Exp. Biol., 155, pp. 177-97 (1990); Singer, W., Search for coherence: A basic principle of cortical self-organization, Concepts Neurosci., 1, pp. 1-26 (1990); Singer, W., Synchronization of cortical activity and its putative role in information processing and learning, Annu. Rev. Physiol., 55, pp. 349-74 (1993); Singer, W. and Gray, C.M., Visual feature integration and the temporal correlation hypothesis, Annu. Rev. Neurosci., 18, pp. 555-86 (1995); Singer, W., Development and plasticity of cortical processing architectures, Science, 270, pp. 758-64 (1995); Neuenschwander, S. and Singer, W., Long-range synchronization of oscillatory light responses in the cat retina and lateral geniculate nucleus, Nature, 379, pp. 728-33 (1996); Munk, M.H.J., Roelfsema, P.R., König, P., Engel, A.K. and Singer, W., Role of reticular activation in the modulation of intracortical synchronization, Science, 272, pp. 271-4 (1996); Fries, P., Roelfsema, P.R., Engel, A.K., König, P. and Singer, W., Synchronization of oscillatory responses in visual cortex correlates with perception in interocular rivalry, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 94, pp. 12699-704 (1997); Activation of Heschl's gyrus during auditory hallucinations, Neuron, 22, pp. 615-21 (1999); Singer, W., Neuronal synchrony: a versatile code for the definition of relations?, Neuron, 24, pp. 49-65 (1999); Castelo-Branco, M., Goebel R., Neuenschwander S. and Singer, W., Neural synchrony correlates with surface segregation rules, Nature, 405, pp. 685-9 (2000); Singer, W., Phenomenal awareness and consciousness from a neurobiological perspective, Neural Correlates of Consciousness (T. Metzinger, ed.), Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, pp. 121-37 (2000); Engel, A.K. and Singer, W., Temporal binding and the neural correlates of sensory awareness, Trends Cogn. Sci., 5, pp. 16-25 (2001); Fries, P., Neuenschwander, S., Engel, A.K., Goebel, R. and Singer, W., Rapid feature selective neuronal synchronization through correlated latency shifting, Nature Neurosci., 4, pp. 194-200 (2001); Singer, W., Consciousness and the binding problem. Marijuán, P.C. Cajal and Consciousness: Scientific Approaches to Consciousness on the Centennial of Ramón y Cajal's Textura, Ann. New York Acad. Sci., New York, 929, pp. 123-46 (2001); Dierks, T., Linden, D.E.J., Jandl, M., Formisano, E., Goebel, R., Lanfermann, H. and Singer, W.; Fries, P., Schröder, J.-H., Roelfsema, P.R., Singer, W. and Engel, A.K., Oscillatory neuronal synchronization in primary visual cortex as a correlate of stimulus selection, J. Neurosci., 22, pp. 3739-54 (2002); Singer, W., Synchrony, oscillations, and relational codes, The Visual Neurosciences, Vol. 2, (L.M. Chalupa and J.S. Werner, eds.), Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, pp. 1665-81 (2004); Brecht, M., Singer, W. and Engel, A.K., Amplitude and direction of saccadic eye movements depend on the synchronicity of collicular population activity, J. Neurophysiol., pp. 424-32 (2004). Latest publications: Weigelt, S., Singer, W. and Muckli, L., Separate cortical stages in amodal completion revealed by functional magnetic resonance adaptation, BMC Neuroscience, 8: 70 (1-11); Weigelt, S., Kourtzi, Z., Kohler, A., Singer, W. and Muckli, L., The cortical representation of objects rotating in depth, The Journal of Neuroscience, 27, pp. 3864-74 (2007); Uhlhaas, P.J. and Singer, W., What can neural synchrony tell us about autism?, Biol. Psychiatry, 62, pp. 190-1 (2007); Schwiedrzik, C.M., Alink, A., Kohler, A., Singer, W. and Muckli, L., A spatio-temporal interaction on the apparent motion trace, Vision Res. 47(28), 3424-33 (2007); Singer, W., Understanding the brain, EMBO reports, Vol. 8 Special Issue 2007, pp. 16-9; Singer, W., Binding by Synchrony, Scholarpedia, the free peer-reviewed encyclopedia (2007); Nikolic, D. and Singer, W., Creation of visual long-term memory, Percept. Psychophys., 69: 904-12 (2007); Nikolic, D., Lichti, P. and Singer, W., Color-opponency in synesthetic experiences, Psychol. Sci., 18(6):481-6 (2007); Nikolic, D., Häusler, S., Singer, W. and Maass, W., Temporal dynamics of information content carried by neurons in the primary visual cortex, Adv. in Neural Inf. Process. Syst. 19, pp. 1041-8 (2007); Melloni, L., Molina, C., Pena, M., Torres, D., Singer, W. and Rodriguez, E., Synchronization of neural activity across cortical areas correlates with conscious perception, J. Neurosci., 27, pp. 2858-65 (2007); Meienbrock, A., Naumer, M.J., Doehrmann, O., Singer, W. and Muckli, L., Retinotopic effects during spatial audio-visual integration, Neuropsychologia, 45, pp. 531-9 (2007); Haenschel, C., Uhlhaas, P.J. and Singer, W., Synchronous oscillatory activity and working memory in schizophrenia, Pharmacopsychiatry, 40 Suppl 1, pp. 54-61 (2007); Haenschel, C., Bittner, R.A., Haertling, F., Rotarska-Jagiela, A., Maurer, K., Singer, W. and Linden, D.E.J., Contribution of impaired early-stage visual processing to working memory dysfunction in adolescents with schizophrenia, Arch. Gen. Psychiatry, 64, pp. 1229-40 (2007); Fries, P., Nikolic, D. and Singer, W., The gamma cycle, Trends Neurosci., 30, pp. 309-16 (2007); Schmidt, K.E., Singer, W. and Löwel, S., Binocular phasic coactivation does not prevent ocular dominance segregation, Frontiers in Bioscience 13, 3381-90 (2008); Nikolic, D., Moca, V.V., Singer, W. and Muresan, R.C., Properties of multivariate data investigated by fractal dimensionality, J. Neurosci. Methods 172, pp. 27-33 (2008); Muresan, R.C., Jurjut, O.F., Moca, V.V., Singer, W. and Nikolic, D., The oscillation score: An efficient method for estimating oscillation strength in neuronal activity, J. Neurophysiol. 99, pp. 1333-53 (2008); Kohler, A., Haddad, L., Singer, W. and Muckli, L., Deciding what to see: The role of intention and attention in the perception of apparent motion, Vision Res., 48, pp. 1096-1106 (2008); Alink, A., Singer, W. and Muckli, L., Capture of auditory motion by vision is represented by an activation shift from auditory to visual motion cortex, J. Neurosci. 28, pp. 2690-7 (2008); Singer, W. and M. Ricard, Hirnforschung und Meditation. Ein Dialog, Edition Unseld 4. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main (2008), Singer, W. Synchronous oscillations and memory formation, Learning and Memory: A Comprehensive Reference, Vol. I (J. Byrne, ed.) Learning, Theory and Behavior (R. Menzel, Ed.), Oxford, Elsevier, pp. 721-8 (2008); Singer, W. Consciousness and neuronal synchronization, The Neurology of Consciousness (Laureys, S., Tononi, G., Eds.), Oxford, Elsevier, pp. 43-52 (2009); Singer, W., Neural synchrony and feature binding, Encyclopedia of Neuroscience, Vol. 6, Oxford, Academic Press, pp. 253-9 (2009); Uhlhaas, P.J., Pipa, G., Lima, B., Melloni, L., Neuenschwander, S., Nikolic, D. and Singer, W., Neural synchrony in cortical networks: History, concept and current status, Front. Integrative Neurosci., 3, pp. 1-19 (2009); Muckli, L., Naumer, M.J. and Singer, W., Bilateral visual field maps in a patient with only one hemisphere, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 106(31), pp. 13034-9 (2009); Nikolic, D., Haeusler, S., Singer, W. and Maass, W., Distributed fading memory for stimulus properties in the primary visual cortex, PLoS Biology, 7, pp. 1-19 (2009); Uhlhaas, P.J. and Singer, W., Abnormal neural oscillations and synchrony in schizophrenia, Nature Rev. Neurosci., 11, pp. 100-13 (2010); Vinck, M, Lima, B., Womelsdorf, T., Oostenveld, R., Singer, W., Neuenschwander, S. and Fries, P., Gamma phase shifting in awake monkey visual cortex, J. Neurosci., 30, pp. 1250-7 (2010); Uhlhaas, P.J., Roux, F., Rodriguez, E., Rotarska-Jagiela, A. and Singer, W., Neural synchrony and the development of cortical networks, Trends Cogn. Sci., 14, pp. 72-80 (2010); Grützner, C., Uhlhaas, P.J., Genc, E., Kohler, A., Singer, W. and Wibral, M., Neuroelectromagnetic correlates of perceptual closure processes, J. Neurosci., 30, pp. 8342-52 (2010); Singer, W. Neocortical rhythms. An overview, Dynamic Coordination in the Brain. From Neurons to Mind, Vol. 5, Strüngmann Forum Report (C. von der Malsburg, W.A. Phillips and W. Singer, Eds.), Cambridge MA, MIT Press, pp. 159-68 (2010); Singer, W., A determinist view of the brain, mind and consciousness. Brain Waves Module 1: Neuroscience, Society and Policy, London, The Royal Society, pp. 41-8 (2011), Schwiedrzik, C.M., Singer, W. and Melloni, L., Subjective and objective learning effects dissociate in space and in time, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 108(11), pp. 4506-11 (2011); Uhlhaas, P. and Singer, W., The development of neural synchrony and large-scale cortical networks during adolescence: Relevance for the pathophysiology of schizophrenia and neurodevelopmental hypothesis, Schizophr. Bull., 37(3), pp. 514-23 (2011); Havenith, M.N., Yu, S., Biederlack, J., Chen, N.-H., Singer, W. and Nikolic, D., Synchrony makes neurons fire in sequence, and stimulus properties determine who is ahead, J. Neurosci., 31, pp. 8570-84 (2011); Melloni, L. and Singer, W., The explanatory gap in neuroscience, The Scientific Legacy of the 20th Century, The Proceedings of the Plenary Session 28, Rome, Pontificiae Academia Scientiarum Acta 21, pp. 61-73 (2011); Ito, J., Maldonado, P., Singer, W. and Gruen, S., Saccade-related modulations of neuronal excitability support synchrony of visually elicited spikes, Cerebr. Cortex, 21, pp. 2482-97 (2011); Lima, B., Singer, W. and Neuenschwander, S., Gamma responses correlate with temporal expectation in monkey primary visual cortex, J. Neurosci., 31, pp.15919-31 (2011).

Professional Address

Max-Planck-Institute for Brain Research
Deutschordenstrasse 46
Postfach 710662
D-60528 Frankfurt am Main (Federal Republic of Germany)

Complexity as Substrate for Neuronal Computations (PDF) 2012

The Explanatory Gap in Neuroscience (PDF) 2010

Genetic and Epigenetic Shaping of Cognition – Prerequisites of Cultural Evolution (PDF) 2008

The Impact of Neuroscience on Culture (PDF) 2002