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Neurotransmitters in The Brain

A neurotransmitter is a signaling molecule secreted by a neuron or a glial cell to affect another cell across a synapse. The cell receiving the signal, or target cell, may be another neuron, but could also be a gland or muscle cell. Neurotransmitters are released from synaptic vesicles into the synaptic cleft where they are received by neurotransmitter receptors on the target cell. Many neurotransmitters are synthesized from simple and plentiful precursors such as amino acids, which are readily available and only require a small number of biosynthetic steps for conversion. Neurotransmitters are essential to the function of complex neural systems. The exact number of unique neurotransmitters in humans is unknown, but more than 500 have been identified.

Types of NTs:

There are many different ways to classify neurotransmitters. Dividing them into amino acids, peptides, and monoamines is sufficient for some classification purposes.

Major neurotransmitters:

  • Amino acids: glutamate,aspartate, D-serine, gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA)[nb 1] glycine

  • Gasotransmitters: nitric oxide (NO), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen sulfide (H2S)

  • Monoamines: dopamine (DA), norepinephrine (noradrenaline; NE, NA), epinephrine (adrenaline), histamine, serotonin (SER, 5-HT)

  • Catecholamines: dopamine, norepinephrine (noradrenaline), epinephrine (adrenaline)

  • Trace amines: phenethylamine, N-methylphenethylamine, tyramine, 3-iodothyronamine, octopamine, tryptamine, etc.

  • Peptides: oxytocin, somatostatin, substance P, cocaine and amphetamine regulated transcript, opioid peptides

  • Purines: adenosine triphosphate (ATP), adenosine

  • Others: acetylcholine (ACh), anandamide, etc.

In addition, over 100 neuroactive peptides have been found, and new ones are discovered regularly. Many of these are co-released along with a small-molecule transmitter. Nevertheless, in some cases, a peptide is the primary transmitter at a synapse. Beta-Endorphin is a relatively well-known example of a peptide neurotransmitter because it engages in highly specific interactions with opioid receptors in the central nervous system.

Single ions (such as synaptically released zinc) are also considered neurotransmitters by some, well as some gaseous molecules such as nitric oxide (NO), carbon monoxide (CO), and hydrogen sulfide (H2S). The gases are produced in the neural cytoplasm and are immediately diffused through the cell membrane into the extracellular fluid and into nearby cells to stimulate production of second messengers. Soluble gas neurotransmitters are difficult to study, as they act rapidly and are immediately broken down, existing for only a few seconds.

The most prevalent transmitter is glutamate, which is excitatory at well over 90% of the synapses in the human brain.The next most prevalent is gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, or GABA, which is inhibitory at more than 90% of the synapses that do not use glutamate. Although other transmitters are used in fewer synapses, they may be very important functionally: the great majority of psychoactive drugs exert their effects by altering the actions of some neurotransmitter systems, often acting through transmitters other than glutamate or GABA. Addictive drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines exert their effects primarily on the dopamine system. The addictive opiate drugs exert their effects primarily as functional analogs of opioid peptides, which, in turn, regulate dopamine levels.


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