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Ralf Heinrich

Professor, Molecular Neuropharmacology of Behavior, University of Göttingen

Dr. rer. nat., University of Göttingen, 1995
Postdoctoral fellow, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA, 1997 - 1999

Major Research Interests:

Ralf Heinrich

Invertebrate preparations can offer unique advantages over more complex nervous systems of vertebrates and especially mammals, such as a smaller total number of neurons in the CNS, the concept of individually identifiable neurons and rather limited repertoires of behaviors composed of genetically determined and stereotype components.

Behavior is the product of complex interactions between various types of neurons. We are especially interested in the central nervous mechanisms underlying the selection and adaptation of actions that are most appropriate for a particular behavioral situation an animal encounters. Our neuroethological studies focus on two systems:

1) The acoustic communication behavior of insects: Pharmacological interference with transmitter- and second messenger-systems in identified brain areas aims to characterize the signaling pathways that contribute to general motivation, initiation of communication behaviors and the selection/composition of behaviorally meaningful song patterns. Our studies on intact and behaving preparations allow to link natural sensory stimuli to physiological changes in the brain and to analize their modulatory effects on the subsequent behavior of the animal.

2) Aggressive behavior of crustaceans: In essentially all species of animals, including man, 5HT is important in aggression, which is a quantifiable behavior in crustaceans. In lobsters and crayfish, enhanced serotonergic function is linked to increased aggression and dominance, while octopamine (the invertebrate analogue of norepinephrine) antagonizes these effects. Pharmacological and physiological studies aim to find out where and how these amine-releasing neurosecretory systems change during a fight to establish stable hierarchies and allow experience to alter the subsequent fighting behavior.

Institut für Zoologie und Anthropologie
Abt. Neurobiologie
Berliner Strasse 28

37073 Göttingen

phone:+49-551-39 91183
fax:+49-551-39 5438

Selected Recent Publications:

Heinrich R, Cromarty S I, Hörner M, Edwards D H and Kravitz E A (1999) Autoinhibition of serotonin cells: an intrinsic regulatory mechanism sensitive to the pattern of usage of the cellls. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA 96: 2473-2478

Heinrich R, Bräunig P, Walter I, Schneider H and Kravitz E A (2000) Aminergic neuron systems of lobsters: Morphology and electrophysiology of octopamine-containing neurosecretory cells. J Comp Physiol A 186: 617-629

Heinrich R, Wenzel B and Elsner N (2001) A role for muscarinic excitation: Control of specific singing behavior by activation of the adenylate cyclase pathway in the brain of grasshoppers. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA 98: 9919-9923

Wenzel B, Elsner N and Heinrich R (2002) mAChRs in the grasshopper brain mediate excitation by activation of the AC/PKA and the PLC second-messenger pathways. J Neurophysiol 87: 876-888

Heinrich R (2002) Impact of descending brain neurons on the control of stridulation, walking and flight in orthoptera. Microscopy Research and Technique 56: 292-301