Heinrich, Ralf, Prof. Dr.

Professor of Molecular Neuropharmacology of Behavior

  • 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 neuroprotective Epo-receptors and to characterize the beneficial molecular mechanisms mediated by these signalling systems. We expect that this ?detour through evolutionary history? will also foster research on Epo-mediated tissue protection in mammals.

2) 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

  • Hahn N, Knorr DY, Liebig J, Wüstefeld L, Peters K, Büscher M, Bucher G, Ehrenreich H, Heinrich R (2017) The insect orthologue of the human orphan cytokine receptor CRLF3 is a neuroprotective erythropoietin receptor in insects. Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience 10: 223.
  • Corthals K, Heukamp AS, Kossen R, Großhennig I, Hahn N, Göpfert M, Heinrich R, Geurten BR (2017) Neuroligins Nlg2 and Nlg4 affect social behaviour in Drosophila melanogaster. Frontiers in Psychiatry 8: 113.
  • Miljus N, Massih B, Weis MA, Rison JV, Bonnas CB, Sillaber I, Ehrenreich H, Geurten BRH, Heinrich R (2017) Neuroprotection and endocytosis: erythropoietin receptors in insect nervous systems. Journal of Neurochemistry 141: 63-74, 2017.
  • Miljus N, Heibeck S, Jarrar M, Micke M, Ostrowski D, Ehrenreich H, Heinrich R (2014) Erythropoietin-mediated neuroprotection in insects involves JAK/STAT but not IP3K transduction pathways. Neuroscience 258: 218-227.
  • Hahn N, Gurvich A, Geurten B, Piepenbrock D, Kästner A, Zanini D, Xing G, Xie W, Göpfert MC, Ehrenreich H, Heinrich R (2013) Monogenic heritable autism gene neuroligin impacts Drosophila social behaviour. Behavioural Brain Research 252: 450-457.
  • Heinrich R, Kunst M, Wirmer A (2012) Reproduction-related sound production of grasshoppers regulated by internal state and actual sensory environment. Frontiers in Decision Neuroscience 6, 89: 1-9.
  • Ostrowski D, Ehrenreich H, Heinrich R (2011) Erythropoietin promotes survival and regeneration of insect neurons in vivo and in vitro. Neuroscience 188: 95-108.
  • Johnsson T, Kravitz EA, Heinrich R (2011) Sound production during agonistic behaviour of male Drosophila melanogaster. Fly 5: 29-38.