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Neurotransmitters and their receptors are key molecules of signal transmission between neurons and represent the molecular basis for structure-function relationships in the brain. Each brain area contains nerve cells that express inhibitory, excitatory and modulatory receptors. Differences in the regional and laminar distribution patterns of a single receptor type can be analyzed by quantitative in vitro receptor autoradiography.

Neurotransmitter receptorsNeurotransmitter receptors are heterogeneously distributed in the human brain.
Copyright: Modified according to Palomero-Gallagher & Zilles (2018) Handb Clin Neurol 150: 355-387

Laminar differencesLaminar differences in receptor densities correlate with synaptic densities.
Copyright: Modified according to Palomero-Gallagher & Zilles (2019) NeuroImage 197:716-741 und Zilles & Palomero-Gallagher (2017) Front Neuroanat 11:78.

The concentrations of the different receptors vary by one to two orders of magnitude between receptor types and different brain regions. Since numerous receptor types are involved in signal transmission in a brain region, our working hypothesis is that the balance between the concentrations of the different receptors in a brain region ("receptor fingerprint") is of crucial importance for the function of this brain region. This is shown by the different receptor fingerprints between brain regions with sensory, motor or multimodal associative functions. Since these functions are made possible by numerous, interconnected brain regions and form complex neural systems, the different "receptor fingerprints" of the brain regions would have to reflect their hierarchical organization principles (primary sensory, higher sensory, multimodal associative regions), different modalities (e.g., vision vs. hearing vs. touch) and their importance for resting state systems (e.g., attention, executive function).

Receptor fingerprints"Receptor fingerprints" reflect the hierarchical organizational principles of the brain.
Copyright: Modified according to Palomero-Gallagher et al. (2009) Hum Brain Mapp 30: 2336-2355.

In neurological and psychiatric diseases such as epilepsy, hepatic encephalopathy, progressive supranuclear palsy, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease, we find characteristic changes in receptor densities and "receptor fingerprints", which are an important aspect of dysfunction in these diseases. To understand the mechanisms behind the pathological changes in the human brain, we also analyze receptor fingerprints in transgenic animal models of human diseases and conditional receptor knock-out animals.

Neurological diseasesNeurological diseases are associated with changes in the density of different receptor types.
Copyright: Copyright: Modified according to Palomero-Gallagher et al. (2012) Epilepsia 53: 1987-1997 and Chiu et al. (2017) Alzheimer's Res Ther 9:28.

We also analyze the cytoarchitecture, connectivity and region-specific expression of receptors in human and non-human primate brains to better understand the development of cognitive, motor and sensory functions during brain development. This evolutionary perspective is crucial because human brain functions, as successfully studied using psychological paradigms and functional imaging studies, focus on an exclusively anthropocentric interpretation and do not explain how cognitive functions have developed through changes in the underlying microstructure and coding strategies during evolution.

Conserved aspectsEvolutionary conserved aspects of the molecular organisation of the brain.
Copyright: Modified according to Zilles & Palomero-Gallagher (2017) In: Evolution of Nervous Systems; Elsevier, Oxford pp. 225-245.

Analyses of regional and laminar distributions of multiple receptors not only enable the identification and mapping of cortical areas and functional systems on a molecular basis, but also broaden our understanding of the underlying structural and functional organization principles of neuronal networks. Therefore, we complement receptor analyses with investigations of structural and functional connectivity (connectome) by diffusion-weighted imaging with MRI, fMRI and ultra-high resolution polarized light imaging of myelinated fibers and fiber tracts in vivo or post mortem (Polarized Light Imaging) in the brain of humans, non-human primates and in rodents analyzed. This multimodal research approach allows a comprehensive analysis of the connectome and the creation of a multimodal brain atlas (Architecture and Brainfunction).

Fiber architectureFiber architecture of the human hippocampus.
Copyright: Modified according to Zeineh et al. (2017) Cereb Cortex 27: 1779-1794.

Multimodal mappingMultimodal mapping of the human hippocampus.
Copyright: Modified according to Palomero-Gallagher et al. (2020) Brain Struct Funct 225: 881-907.

Additional Information

Head of the team

PD Dr. rer. nat. Nicola Palomero-Gallagher

Building: 15.2, Room: 302

Fon: 02461/61-4790

In Memoriam

Prof. Dr. med. Dr. h.c. Karl Zilles

Obituary Karl Zilles

Short CV Karl Zilles

Publications Karl Zilles


Stefanie Hennen

Building: 15.9, Room: 3021

+49 2461 61-2481
 +49-2461 61-3483

Janine Hucko

Building: 15.9, Room: 3020

+49 2461 61-6443
+49 2461 61-3483

Anna Stössel

Building: 15.9, Room: 3020

+49 2461 61-9167
+49 2461 61-3483


Institut für Neurowissenschaften und Medizin (INM-1)
Forschungszentrum Jülich
52425 Jülich

Building: 15.9