Head of Institute

Prof. Dr. med. Katrin Amunts

Prof. Dr. med. Katrin Amunts

Katrin Amunts is a German neuroscientist and head of the Julich Brain Atlas. She and her team have developed the atlas to better understand the organisational principles of the human brain. It serves as a basis to integrate multi-level and multi-scale brain data into a common reference space.

» With the Julich Brain Atlas, we want to provide a tool for scientists around the world to better understand the brain and enable clinicians to plan medical intervention more precisely. «


Katrin Amunts is a full professor and director of the C. and O. Vogt Institute of Brain Research at Heinrich-Heine University Duesseldorf, and director of the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-1) at Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ). Since 2016, she is the Scientific Research Director of the European Flagship Human Brain Project (HBP).

Research Focus

  • Developing a multi-level, multimodal atlas of the human brain
  • Relationship between structure, function and behaviour
  • Cytoarchitectonics using state-of-the-art methods of image analysis, statistics and deep learning
  • The relationship between architectonics and genetics
  • Intersubject variability

Previous Positions

Katrin Amunts did postdoctoral fellowships at the Fraunhofer IKP in Berlin and at the C. & O. Vogt Institute of Brain Research at Duesseldorf University, Germany. In 1999, she set up a new research unit for Brain Mapping at Forschungszentrum Juelich. From 2004 until 2013 she was a professor at the Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics at the RWTH Aachen University.

Honours & Awards

  • 2022: Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
  • 2022: Hector Science Award 2021
  • 2015: Business Insider, "50 Groundbreaking Scientists who are changing the way we see the World"
  • 2014: MIT Technology Review: 10 Breakthrough Technologies, Brain Mapping

Activities in Boards & Memberships

  • Since 2022
    Hector Fellow, Hector Fellow Academy
  • Since 2018
    Member of the International Advisory Council Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives, Canada
  • Since 2017
    Member of the North Rhine-Westphalian Academy of Sciences, Humanities and the Arts
  • Since 2017
    Co-speaker of the Max Planck School of Cognition
  • Since 2016
    Member of the German National Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech)
  • 2012-2020
    Member of the German Ethics Council

Personal Motivation

“I want to understand how the structure of our brain relates to how we think, feel and develop as human beings. I would also like to help people with brain disorders. The atlas is a tool that helps us gain in-depth insights about the human brain, and a good atlas is absolutely necessary to better understand disease processes and develop new therapies.

Very early in my career, I realized how changes in brain structure are related to dysfunction. A comprehensive understanding of how the brain is structured is needed – not just on one but on multiple levels. The cellular architecture serves as an interface that almost all other factors can be related to. That’s why we started mapping it in the 1990s.”

Unique Approach

“Brain mapping has a hundred-year tradition, and we stand on the shoulders of giants. Yet, our concept of an atlas is fundamentally new: From the very beginning, we have included inter-subject variation in the atlas. In addition, we are not just trying to divide the brain into small packages (areas), but we are also looking at other organizational principles like the molecular features and connectivity, which are superimposed on this division and play a major role in brain function. This is central to really understanding the brain. It is also not enough to simply zoom into the brain with ever better optics – you always have to keep the whole brain in mind and put local features into the whole-brain perspective.

We want to understand how the brain functions as an organ and not just as a small network of cells, and this makes our approach different from many others.”


“Our next goal is to advance to the one-micrometre scale at the whole-brain level - we have already reconstructed the first regions of interest at this resolution. This will enable us to better understand principles of network organization and function. Such insights are very important to address diseases that are caused by the disruption of networks, such as stroke, and may guide the future design of artificial neuronal networks.

Another major research goal in the years to come is to understand the relationship between brain areas and plasticity that occur on a cellular and molecular level.”

In the media

 – In English –

– In German –

– Other languages –


Key Publications

Amunts K, Lippert T (2021)

Brain research challenges supercomputing

Science 374: 1054-1055

Amunts K, Mohlberg H, Bludau S, Zilles K. (2020)

Julich-Brain: A 3D probabilistic atlas of the human brain's cytoarchitecture

Science 369: 988-992

Stacho M, Herold C, Rook N, Wagner H, Axer M, Amunts K, Güntürkün O (2020)

A cortex-like canonical circuit in the avian forebrain

Science 369(6511), eabc5534

Salles A, Bjaalie JG, Evers K, Farisko M, Fothergill BT, Guerrero M, Maslen H, Muller J, Prescott T, Stahl BC, Walter H, Zilles K, Amunts K (2019)

The Human Brain Project: Responsible Brain Research for the Benefit of Society

Neuron 101(3), 380 - 384

Gomez J, Barnett MA, Natu V, Mezer A, Palomero-Gallagher N, Weiner KS, Amunts K, Zilles K, Grill-Spector K (2017)

Microstructural proliferation in human Cortex is coupled with the development of face processing

Science 355(6320), 68 - 71

Amunts K, Zilles K. (2015)

Architectonic Mapping of the Human Brain beyond Brodmann

Neuron 88: 1086-1107

Amunts K, Lepage C, Borgeat L, Mohlberg H, Dickscheid T, Rousseau ME, Bludau S, Bazin PL, Lewis LB, Oros-Peusquens AM, Shah NJ, Lippert T, Zilles K, Evans AC (2013)

BigBrain: An ultrahigh-resolution 3D human brain model

Science, 340(6139): 1472-1475

Amunts K, Schleicher A, Zilles K. (2007)

Cytoarchitecture of the cerebral cortex--more than localization

Neuroimage 37: 1061-1065