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Showing posts from June, 2006

Neurotransmitters - molecular messages

You often hear about neurotransmitters in the news and in science magazines in a kind of off-hand way that assumes everyone must surely know what these things are. But, um, what are they, exactly?

From Sandra Ackerman's book "Discovering the Brain": To be recognized as a neurotransmitter, a chemical compound must satisfy six conditions: It must be

synthesized in the neuron, stored there, released in sufficient quantity to bring about some physical effect; when administered experimentally, the compound must demonstrate the same effect that it brings about in living tissue; there must be receptor sites specific to this compound on the postsynaptic membrane, as well as a means for shutting off its effect, either by causing its swift decomposition or by reuptake, absorbing it back into the cell.

OK, well, what about hormones? They're chemical messengers too - how are hormones different from neurotransmitters? A hormone, by definition, is a compound produced by an endocrine…