Julich Brain Atlas: Neurotransmitter Receptors

Neurotransmitter Receptors

Receptor fingerprints of the brain

Neurotransmitter receptors represent the molecular basis for structure-function relationships in the brain. Located in the membrane of neurons, they are responsible for transmitting signals from the outside to the inside of the cell. Each brain region has a specific expression pattern of different receptor types - a distinct receptor fingerprint - with crucial importance for its specialised function. We generate maps of regional and laminar differences in neurotransmitter receptor distribution patterns and integrate these with cytoarchitectonics. These maps provide important insights into the relationship between receptor gradients and known functional hierarchies and cognitive networks.

Neurotransmitter receptor density maps
Receptor density maps

Pathological changes in receptor expression

We can find characteristic changes in receptor densities in many neurological and psychiatric diseases including epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and other degenerative disorders. We study these alterations in patient samples and animal models in order to better understand the underlying disease mechanisms as a basis to identify new therapeutic targets.

Neurotransmitter receptor maps of the brain
Density map of the cholinergic muscarinic  M2 receptor

The method in a nutshell

We measure the densities of neurotransmitter receptors using quantitative in vitro autoradiography. Receptors in frozen tissue sections are detected with radio-activelly-labelled ligands. The concentration of the receptors can then be determined allowing for quantification in distinct anatomical positions. The densities are visualized as receptor fingerprints, which provide the mean density and standard deviation for each of the analyzed receptor types, averaged across samples.

The 3D reconstruction of receptor autoradiograms is being carried out in the context of the HIBALL project.

Data & Applications

Our neurotransmitter receptor density maps are openly available via the Human Brain Project’s EBRAINS infrastructure.

Density measurements of different receptors

Datasets containing the densities of receptors for classical neurotransmitters in a range of different brain regions are openly available via the EBRAINS Knowledge Graph.


PD Dr. rer. nat.
Nicola Palomero-Gallagher

Head of research group receptors

Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-1)

Forschungszentrum Jülich
52425 Jülich

Phone: +49 2461 61-4790

Email: n.palomero-gallagher@fz-juelich.de

PD  Dr. rer. nat. Nicola Palomero-Gallagher

Key Publications

Khan AF, Adewale Q, Baumeister TR, Carbonell F, Zilles K, Palomero-Gallagher N, Iturria-Medina Y (2021)

Personalized brain models identify neurotransmitter receptor changes in Alzheimer's disease

Brain: awab375

Palomero-Gallagher N, Kedo O, Mohlberg H, Zilles K, Amunts K (2020)

Multimodal mapping and analysis of the cyto- and receptorarchitecture of the human hippocampus

Brain structure & function 225, 881–907

Palomero-Gallagher N, Zilles K (2019)

Differences in cytoarchitecture of Broca's region between human, ape and macaque brains

Cortex 118: 132-153

Palomero-Gallagher N, Zilles K (2019)

Cortical layers: Cyto-, myelo-, receptor- and synaptic architecture in human cortical areas

NeuroImage 197, 716-741 [10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.08.035]

Palomero-Gallagher N, Zilles K (2018)

Cyto- and receptor architectonic mapping of the human brain

Handbook of Clinical Neurology 150: 355-387

Chiu WZ, Donker Kaat L, Boon AJW, Kamphorst W, Schleicher A, Zilles K, van Swieten JC, Palomero-Gallagher N (2017)

Multireceptor fingerprints in progressive supranuclear palsy

Alzheimer's Research & Therapy 9: 28

Zilles K, Palomero-Gallagher N (2017)

Multiple transmitter receptors in regions and layers of the human cerebral cortex

Frontiers in Neuroanatomy 11:78

Zilles K, Amunts K (2009)

Receptor mapping: architecture of the human cerebral cortex

Current Opinion in Neurology 22(4): 331-339