A breakthrough study has uncovered the intricate organization of neurotransmitter receptors in macaque brains, shedding light on how internal thoughts can be distinguished from external influences. The researchers have made their data openly accessible, offering valuable insights into brain function, behavior, and drug interactions. This significant development may also pave the way for the targeted development of new treatments designed to address specific brain functions.
Scientists have revealed that receptor patterns play a crucial role in organizing the brain, as they explore macaque brains and meticulously map out neurotransmitter receptors. These findings suggest that these receptors may be instrumental in discerning internal thoughts and emotions from those originating from external sources.
The comprehensive dataset resulting from this research has been made publicly available, serving as a vital link that connects different scales of neuroscience, ranging from microscopic analysis to the study of the entire brain.
Lead author Sean Froudist-Walsh, from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bristol, explained the analogy: “Imagine the brain as a city. While previous research focused on studying the brain’s roads, our work provides the most detailed map yet of the traffic lights—the neurotransmitter receptors—that govern information flow. We have identified patterns in the arrangement of these ‘traffic lights,’ enhancing our understanding of their role in perception, memory, and emotion. It’s akin to discovering the key to a city’s traffic flow, opening up exciting possibilities for comprehending the normal functioning of the brain.”
Froudist-Walsh further stated, “In the future, researchers may leverage these maps to develop novel medications that target specific brain networks and functions. Our objective was to create the most detailed map to date of these ‘traffic lights.'”
To map the receptor density of six different neurotransmitter systems across over 100 brain regions, the team employed a technique known as in-vitro receptor autoradiography. Analyzing this vast amount of data necessitated the application of statistical techniques, modern neuroimaging methods, and expert anatomical knowledge. Consequently, the researchers successfully revealed the connections between receptor patterns, brain connectivity, and anatomy.
By understanding the organization of receptors throughout the brain, researchers hope to establish stronger connections between brain activity, behavior, and the effects of drugs. Furthermore, since receptors serve as targets for medications, these findings could eventually guide the development of treatments tailored to specific brain functions.
Dr. Froudist-Walsh emphasized, “Next, we intend to utilize this dataset to develop computational models of the brain. These brain-inspired neural network models will aid our understanding of normal perception and memory, as well as differences observed in individuals with conditions such as schizophrenia or those under the influence of substances like ‘magic mushrooms.’ We also aim to establish better integration of findings across species, bridging the gap between detailed circuit-level neuroscience commonly conducted in rodents and the large-scale brain activity observed in humans.”
By creating openly accessible maps of receptor expression throughout the cortex and integrating neuroimaging data, the translation of findings between species can be expedited.
“These maps are being made freely available to the neuroscientific community through the Human Brain Project’s EBRAINS infrastructure. This will enable other computational neuroscientists to develop additional biologically informed models,” added Nicola Palomero-Gallagher, HBP researcher at the Forschungszentrum Jülich and senior author of the paper.
Reference: “Gradients of neurotransmitter receptor expression in the macaque cortex” by Sean Froudist-Walsh, Ting Xu, Meiqi Niu, Lucija Rapan, Ling Zhao, Daniel S. Margulies, Karl Zilles, Xiao-Jing Wang, and Nicola Palomero-Gallagher, 19 June 2023, Nature Neuroscience.
This global team of researchers comprises individuals from the University of Bristol, New York University, the Human Brain Project, Research Center Julich, the University of Dusseldorf, the Child Mind Institute, and Universite Paris Cite.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about neurotransmitter receptors
What did the scientists discover through brain receptor mapping?
Scientists discovered key organizational principles in the brain by mapping neurotransmitter receptors in macaque brains. These receptors play a role in distinguishing internal thoughts from external influences.
What is the significance of the data being made publicly available?
The publicly available data provides valuable insights into brain activity, behavior, and drug interactions. It can also potentially guide the development of new treatments targeting specific brain functions.
How was the receptor mapping conducted?
The researchers used a technique called in-vitro receptor autoradiography to map the density of receptors from six different neurotransmitter systems in over 100 brain regions.
How did the researchers analyze the data?
The team utilized statistical techniques, modern neuroimaging methods, and expert anatomical knowledge to analyze the receptor patterns, brain connectivity, and anatomy.
What are the potential applications of this research?
Understanding receptor organization in the brain can help link brain activity, behavior, and the action of drugs. Moreover, the research may guide the development of new treatments targeting specific brain functions.
How will this research benefit computational neuroscience?
The dataset generated by this research will be used to develop computational models of the brain. These models will aid in understanding normal perception, memory, and differences observed in conditions such as schizophrenia or under the influence of substances like ‘magic mushrooms’.
How will the openly-accessible maps of receptor expression be used?
The openly-accessible maps, integrated with neuroimaging data, will facilitate the translation of findings across species, speeding up the progress of neuroscience research and the development of biologically informed models.
More about neurotransmitter receptors
- Nature Neuroscience: Gradients of neurotransmitter receptor expression in the macaque cortex
- University of Bristol: Unlocking the Mind’s Grid: Separating Sensory and Cognitive Networks Through Brain Receptor Mapping
- Human Brain Project: EBRAINS Infrastructure