Brain receptor patterns separate sensory and cognitive networks, new study finds


Share post:

An international team of researchers, studying macaque brains, have mapped out neurotransmitter receptors, revealing a potential role in distinguishing internal thoughts and emotions from those generated by external influences. Receptor patterns define key organizational principles in the brain, they discovered.

The comprehensive dataset has been made publicly available, serving as a bridge linking different scales of neuroscience—from the microscopic to the whole brain. The article, “Gradients of neurotransmitter receptor expression in the macaque cortex,” is published in Nature Neuroscience.

Lead author Sean Froudist-Walsh, from the University of Bristol’s Department of Computer Science explained, “Imagine the brain as a city. In recent years, brain research has been focused on been studying its roads, but in this research, we’ve made the most detailed map yet of the traffic lights—the neurotransmitter receptors—that control information flow.

“We’ve discovered patterns in how these ‘traffic lights’ are arranged that help us understand their function in perception, memory, and emotion. It’s like finding the key to a city’s traffic flow, and it opens up exciting possibilities for understanding how the normal brain works. Potentially in the future, other researchers may use these maps to target particular brain networks and functions with new medicines. Our study aimed to create the most detailed map yet of these ‘traffic lights.'”

The team used a technique called in-vitro receptor autoradiography to map the density of receptors from six different neurotransmitter systems in more than 100 brain regions.


To find the patterns in this vast data, they applied statistical techniques and used modern neuroimaging techniques, combined with expert anatomical knowledge. This allowed them to uncover the relationships between receptor patterns, brain connectivity, and anatomy.

By understanding the receptor organization across the brain, it is hoped new studies can better link brain activity, behavior, and the action of drugs.

Moreover, because receptors are the targets of medicines, the research could, in the future, guide the development of new treatments targeting specific brain functions.

Dr. Froudist-Walsh added, “Next, we aim to use this dataset to develop computational models of the brain.

“These brain-inspired neural network models will help us understand normal perception and memory, as well as differences in people with conditions like schizophrenia or under the influence of substances like ‘magic mushrooms.’ We also plan to better integrate findings across species—linking detailed circuit-level neuroscience often conducted in rodents, to large-scale brain activity seen in humans.”

Creating openly-accessible maps of receptor expression across the cortex that integrate neuroimaging data could speed up translation across species.

“It is being made freely available to the neuroscientific community via the Human Brain Project’s EBRAINS infrastructure, so that they can be used by other computational neuroscientists aiming to create other biologically informed models,” added Nicola Palomero-Gallagher, HBP researcher at the Forschungszentrum JĂĽlich and senior author of the paper.

Source: University of Bristol [June 19, 2023]



Related articles

Coming to a Head: Insights from a Vampire of the Deep

Lamprey are blood-sucking vampire-like fish that attach to and eventually kill game fish, making them the bane of...

Were hot, humid summers the key to life’s origins?

Uncovering how the first biological molecules (like proteins and DNA) arose is a major goal for researchers attempting...

Cockroach ancient geographic and genomic history traced back to last supercontinent

Cockroaches are so hardy, a popular joke goes, that they've occupied the Earth long before humans first appeared...

On early Earth, iron may have performed magnesium’s RNA folding job

On the periodic table of the elements, iron and magnesium are far apart. But new evidence suggests that...

Fungal evolution discovered: Mycena can now invade living hosts

Biologists have long known mushrooms of the genus Mycena, commonly known as bonnet mushrooms,as fungi that live off of...

Models of life

Friedrich Simmel und Aurore Dupin, researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), have for the first time...

Genomic study ties insect evolution to the ability to detect airborne odours

A new study reveals that all insects use specialized odorant receptors that enable them to detect and pursue...

Researchers reveal molecular basis of vision

Researchers have solved the three-dimensional structure of a protein complex involved in vertebrate vision at atomic resolution, a...