Biographical Notes on Otto Creutzfeldt


Otto Detlev Creutzfeldt (1927-1992) was one of the pioneers of modern neurophysiology. During his long and distinguished career he made a significant and lasting contribution to neuroscience research. Coming from a background of philosophy and theology, Creutzfeldt went on to become a fully trained neurologist. Combining these qualifications with a vast experimental knowledge of brain mechanisms enabled him to approach the mind-body problem from a unique perspective. Creutzfeldt was tremendously influential, both in terms of his own research and in shaping German neuroscience. A generation of students and a publications list of over 200 contributions to science, ethics and philosophy are testament to his breadth of knowledge, generosity, enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity.
Otto Creutzfeldt was born in Berlin and attended the "gymnasium" (high school) in Kiel. At university he first studied the humanities, but soon switched to medicine, and obtained his M.D. at Freiburg University in Germany in 1953. He pursued a clinical training in neurology in Freiburg and spent a year as resident in psychiatry in Bern (Switzerland). At the Neurology Department in Freiburg, out of the remnants of what was left after the War, Richard Jung had built a clinic where basic research and patient care were integral parts. Jung created a unique intellectual atmosphere, where Otto Creutzfeldt, Günter Baumgartner, Rudolph von Baumgarten, Otto-Joachim Grüsser, Hans Kornhuber, and later a whole new generation of neurologists and physiologists obtained their training and, more importantly, received intellectual stimulation which determined their life-long scientific careers in neurobiology. Otto Creutzfeldt spent a postdoctoral year at the Brain Research Institute of the University of California at Los Angeles. In 1962 he joined the Max-Planck-Institute for Psychiatry in Munich. In 1971 he became director of the Department of Neurobiology at the newly built Max-Planck-Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen. Bert Sakmann, Henning Scheich, Wolf Singer, Heinz Wässle, to name a few, worked in his laboratory as doctoral students. In 1975 Otto Creutzfeldt became president of the European Brain and Behaviour Society, and in 1982 president of the European Neuroscience Association. Since 1976 he was chief editor of Experimental Brain Research. He was made a member of the Vatican Academy of Sciences in 1990 and was awarded the Zülch Prize for his life's work and achievements in 1991. He died in January 1992.

Selected Bibliography

Creutzfeldt, O.D. Cortex Cerebri. Springer, 1984.  English translation: Oxford University Press, 1995.

More than 200 publications in peer-reviewed journals on a broad range of subjects including: clinical neurophysiology, physiological basis of EEG, biophysical properties of neurons and synaptic transmission, neurophysiology of vision & audition, neurophysiological considerations of consciousness including brain/mind problem, anatomy and physiology of the cerebral cortex, experimental epilepsy, sensory physiology.
Journals include: Experimental Brain Research, The Journal of Comparative Neurology, Journal of Neuroscience, Brain Research, Biological Psychiatry, Nature, European Journal of Neurophysiology.