History and goals

The (Clinical) Institute of Neurology (IN) of the Medical University Vienna was founded in 1882 by Heinrich Obersteiner. It is the oldest institution embracing the multidisciplinarity of neurosciences and has served as model for the establishment of similarly designed institutions in many countries. The original location of the then ”Neurological Institute“ in Vienna was at Schwarzspanierstrasse. Since 1993, IN is located in the Vienna General Hospital in top-class laboratory facilities. IN is committed to its proud tradition as Obersteiner Institute and to a promising future of a nationally and internationally leading institution in the clinical neurosciences. Our work aims to translate the understanding of nervous diseases to the development of novel therapeutics and diagnostics.

IN’s tasks include diagnostic patient service, research and graduate/postgraduate teaching in neuropathology, neurochemistry, and neuro-molecular biology in an integrated way.

Neuropathology is a recognized medical speciality in Austria. It analyzes structural changes of nervous tissues in disease. Diagnostic neuropathology makes use of most modern morphological techniques applied to diseased central, peripheral and vegetative nervous tissues and fluids, and muscle. Neuropathological diagnoses are a basis for disease classification and rational therapies. Neurodegenerative disorders, in particular prion diseases, virus diseases affecting the nervous system, and brain tumors (neuro-oncology) are research priorities.

Neurochemistry analyzes biochemical changes of nervous tissues in disease. It makes use of most modern chemical techniques applied to diseased nervous tissues and fluids. Neurochemical diagnoses are the basis for classification of more than 20 lysosomal and peroxisomal genetic diseases. Diagnostic neurochemistry includes prenatal diagnostics, identification of genetic disease carriers, laboratory confirmation of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and recognition of autoantibody-mediated neuroimmune disorders.

Neuro-molecular biology closely interacts with neuropathology and neurochemistry. Actual priorities are molecular genetics of prion diseases and brain tumors.

In the highly publicized area of prion diseases, IN has developed into a national and international center of excellence and expertise that leads several European, EU-funded networks in prion research.

As an indispensable asset, the IN possesses a large brain bank that has systematically collected neuropathological specimens since 1948. Most samples are fixed and paraffin-embedded tissue only, but in a part of neurosurgical, nerve and muscle biopsies and autopsies, also fresh tissue is obtained, frozen and stored at -80°C. Occasionally blood and CSF are also available. The unique neuropathological collection of histological slides, paraffin blocks and formol-fixed nervous tissues now comprises about 16.000 brain autopsies, 30.000 neurosurgical and 7.500 nerve/muscle biopsies. Also a number of cell cultures have been stored, mainly fibroblasts from patients with rare neurometabolic diseases, and primary cultures of brain tumours. IN participates in the EU-supported European Network of Brain Banks BrainNet Europe (
www.brainnet-europe.org).