Heinrich, Ralf, Prof. Dr.

Department of Cellular Neurobiology

  • 1995: Dr. rer. nat., University of Göttingen
  • 1997-1999: Postdoctoral fellow, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA
  • 2004: Habilitation, Zoology
  • 2002-2008: Junior professor for Molecular Neuropharmacology of Behavior, Göttingen
  • since 2008: apl Professor, Dept. of Cellular Neurobiology

Major Research Interests

Vertebrates and invertebrates evolved from common ancestors that already possessed neurons, neurosecretory systems and structured central nervous systems. Though nervous systems of invertebrates are typically less complex than those of vertebrates (especially mammals) they share many molecular and functional characteristics. We study the neural basis of insect behaviors and mechanisms underlying neuroprotection and neuroregeneration in insect nervous systems with an evolutionary perspective.
1) The cytokine erythropoietin (Epo) mediates neuroprotective and neuroregenerative functions in insects similar to its beneficial effects described in mammals including humans. Similar structural and functional characteristics of the Epo-binding receptors, partly shared transduction pathways that prevent apoptosis and the functional implication in neuroprotective and neuroregenerative processes in both mammalian and insect species suggest that Epo-like signaling was already established in their common ancestors. We study insects, both with invitro and invivo approaches, to identify “ancient” Epo-like signals and their cell-protective receptors and to characterize their functions when animals face environmental and/or physiological challenges.
2) Apoptosis plays a major role in development, tissue renewal and the progression of degenerative diseases. Similar molecular players and mechanisms in vertebrates and invertebrates indicated that the complex "mammalian-like" apoptosis regulatory network was already present in early metazoans. Our recent studies identified the pro-apoptotic function of insect acetylcholinesterase as another shared characteristic between vertebrate and insect apoptosis.
3) Social behavior is the product of complex interactions between various types of neurons that integrate external sensory information with internal physiological states. We study the regulation of social behaviors by synaptic molecules (e.g. neuroligins, transmitters) and the neurochemical mechanisms of motivational states with a combination of neuroethological, pharmacological, electrophysiological, histochemical and immunocytochemical methods. Most studies focus on sex-specific mating and aggressive behaviors of acoustically communicating grasshoppers and fruit flies.

Homepage Department/Research Group


Selected Recent Publications

  • Knorr DY, Georges NS, Pauls S, Heinrich R. Acetylcholinesterase promotes apoptosis in insect neurons. Apoptosis, 2020 (https://doi.org/10.1007/s10495-020-01630-4)
  • Hahn N, Büschgens L, Schwedhelm-Domeyer N, Bank S, Geurten BRH, Neugebauer P, Massih B, Göpfert MC, Heinrich R. The orphan cytokine receptor CRLF3 emerged with the origin of the nervous system and is a neuroprotective erythropoietin receptor in locusts. Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience 12: 251, 2019
  • Ostrowski D, Heinrich R. Alternative erythropoietin receptors in the nervous system. Journal of Clinical Medicine 7 (2): 24, 2018
  • Hahn N, Knorr DY, Liebig J, Wüstefeld L, Peters K, Büscher M, Bucher G, Ehrenreich H, Heinrich R. The insect orthologue of the human orphan cytokine receptor CRLF3 is a neuroprotective erythropoietin receptor in insects. Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience 10: 223, 2017
  • Miljus N, Massih B, Weis MA, Rison JV, Bonnas CB, Sillaber I, Ehrenreich H, Geurten BRH, Heinrich R Neuroprotection and endocytosis: erythropoietin receptors in insect nervous systems. Journal of Neurochemistry 141: 63-74, 2017
  • Hahn N, Geurten B, Gurvich A, Piepenbrock D, Kästner A, Zanini, D, Xing G, Xie W, Göpfert MC, Ehrenreich H, Heinrich R. Monogenic heritable autism gene neuroligin impacts Drosophila social behaviour. Behavioural Brain Research 252: 450-457, 2013