Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Neuron - Part 3 - Neurotransmitters

Neurotransmitters are endogenous chemicals that transmit signals from a neuron to a target cell across a synapse.

There are many ways you can classify neurotransmitters. The easiest way to remember them is by dividing them into two groups: excitatory and inhibitory. Excitatory neurotransmitters stimulate the brain while inhibitory neurotransmitters create balance when excitatory neurotransmitters are overactive. 

They can also be divided into small molecule neurotransmitters and neuropeptide neurotransmitters. Small molecule neurotransmitters are more rapid and they are involved in the central nervous system prompt feedback like sensorial and motor signals.

  • Acetylcholine
  • Dopamine
  • Noradrenaline
  • Serotonin
  • Histamine
  • GABA
  • Glycine
  • Glutamate
  • Aspartate

Neuropeptide Neurotransmitters

  • Corticotropin releasing hormone
  • Corticotropin ACTH
  • Beta-endrophin
  • Substance P
  • Neurotensin
  • Somatostatin
  • Bradykinin
  • Vasopressin
  • Angiotensin II

I’ll just talk about a few of these neurotransmitters but I’ll give links to some resources if you want more.

Serotonin or 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) plays an important role in a range of brain functions. It is derived from tryptophan and it is primarily found in the gastrointestinal tract, platelets and the central nervous system. 
Low serotonin levels lead to insomnia, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, obesity, eating disorders, chronic pain, migraines and alcohol abuse. Also, negative thoughts correlated with low self esteem or obsessive thoughts and behaviors could be symptoms of low serotonin levels. 
On the other hand, high serotonin levels could lead to Serotonin syndrome which has the following symptoms: hypomania, hallucinations, shivering, sweating, nausea, tremor, etc. 
More about serotonin syndrome here

Noradrenalin or norepinephrine has a double role: as a neurotransmitter and as a hormone. It is synthesized from dopamine. The release of noradrenaline increases the level of excitatory activity in the brain and the noradrenergic pathways are involved in the control of attention and arousal functions. Along with epinephrine it underlines the fight or flight response which directly increases the heart rate, increases blood flow to skeletal muscle and releases glucose from energy stores.

Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter that has important roles in behaviour and cognition, movement, motivation, sleep, mood, attention, memory, and even learning. It helps us with our motivation and our desire to get tasks done. ADD/ADHD or even caffeine are stimulants that help us focus more by manipulating dopamine levels.

Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter in the peripheral nervous system and the central nervous system. It is very important for proper functioning of the nervous system and muscle functioning. 

If you would like to read more, check out this amazing website.

Here’s a cool video about neurotransmitters:


  1. This was wonderful. I became interested in the neurotransmitters when I was clean about ten years. I had been a meth head and read about the effect on the dopamine receptors.

    VERY col blog. I look forward to more posts and reading the past ones.

  2. Thanks for your comment Chrissy! I'm very happy you find my blog interesting :D

  3. Long read. You covered the subject well.