Week 4. Neurotransmitter Systems

This week was focused in more detail in the mechanisms of neurotransmitter systems. There are several kinds of neurotransmitters, typically classified in amino acids, amines and peptides. The research in this field is constantly characterizing new transmitters and trying to track their receptors, both agonists and antagonists. This task is particularly challenging, as the tracking of molecules in body systems is not evident, and the recognition of a substance as a neurotransmitter has several constraints: the molecule should be synthesized and stored in the neuron, it should be released when the neuron is stimulated, and it should produce the same response when introduced artificially.

There are also three main kinds of channels opening mechanisms linked to neurotransmitters. These channels could be transmitter-gated; this means that they bind directly with the transmitter. They could also be G-protein coupled, and in this case they will bind to a second messenger liberated by an effector stimulated by the neurotransmitter. This process could be done in a shortcut pathway, in which the there is only one second messenger. Or the process can involve several stages, originating very elaborate series of biochemical reactions. In this later case, the mechanism is known as a second messenger cascade. These cascades work as an amplifier if the signal, as one potential that stimulates the activation of one receptor, can lead to the activation of several ion channels at the end of the cascade.

All these processes related to neurotransmitters are fundamental for the correct brain functioning. The research associated to the comprehension of neurotransmitter systems has been able to explain some conditions as epilepsy or illnesses as Alzheimer. The development of psychiatric medications, as well as the study of addictions is also dependent of the research in this field. It is highly probable that a lot of other illnesses and conditions could be explained and tackled trhough the neurotransmitter systems.

Posted by Gloria Mendoza Franco

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