Neurotransmitters/ classification, function, steps in Neurotransmitters


Chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters are essential for nerve cell (neurons) in the nervous system to communicate with one another. They send information not just between neurons and muscles or glands, but also across synapses, the connectors between neurons.

Neurotransmitters function

Neurotransmitters play a crucial role in transmitting signals within the nervous system. These chemical messengers facilitate communication between nerve cells (neurons) and are involved in transmitting signals across synapses, which are the junctions between neurons or between neurons and muscles or glands. The functions of neurotransmitters are diverse and include:

  1. Acetylcholine (ACh): Found in both the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS), ACh is involved in muscle contraction, learning, and memory.

  2. Dopamine: Associated with motivation, reward, and pleasure, dopamine is involved in various functions such as mood, attention, and movement control. Imbalances in dopamine levels are linked to conditions like Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia.

  3. Serotonin: This neurotransmitter is involved in mood regulation, appetite, sleep, and general emotional well-being. It is often targeted in the treatment of mood disorders like depression.

  4. Norepinephrine (Noradrenaline): Involved in the “fight or flight” response, norepinephrine plays a role in alertness, arousal, and stress response.

  5. GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid): A major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the CNS, GABA helps regulate anxiety, sleep, and overall neural excitability.

  6. Glutamate: As the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, glutamate is involved in learning, memory, and synaptic plasticity. Too much glutamate can lead to neurotoxicity, which is implicated in conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

  7. Endorphins: These neurotransmitters act as natural painkillers and contribute to feelings of pleasure and well-being. Exercise, stress, and certain foods can trigger the release of endorphins.

  8. Serotonin: Involved in mood, appetite, and sleep regulation. It is a target for medications used in the treatment of depression and anxiety.

  9. Histamine: Apart from its well-known role in allergic responses, histamine also acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain, influencing arousal, attention, and cognitive function.

  10. Adenosine: Involved in promoting sleep and relaxation. Caffeine works by blocking adenosine receptors, leading to increased alertness and wakefulness.

Understanding the functions of neurotransmitters is critical for gaining insights into the complex mechanisms underlying normal brain function and the pathophysiology of various neurological and psychiatric disorders. Additionally, this knowledge is crucial for the development of medications that target neurotransmitter systems to treat these conditions.


Neurotransmitters classification

Neurotransmitters can be classified based on various criteria, including their chemical structure, function, and their effects on the postsynaptic membrane. Here is a classification based on chemical structure:

  1. Amino Acids:

    • Glutamate: The most abundant excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system (CNS), involved in learning and memory.
    • Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA): The major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the CNS, responsible for reducing neuronal excitability.
  2. Monoamines:

    • Dopamine: Involved in motivation, reward, and motor control.
    • Norepinephrine (Noradrenaline): Involved in arousal, attention, and the “fight or flight” response.
    • Epinephrine (Adrenaline): Functions as both a neurotransmitter and a hormone, involved in the stress response.
    • Serotonin: Plays a role in mood regulation, sleep, and appetite.
  3. Acetylcholine (ACh):

    • Acetylcholine: Found in the central and peripheral nervous systems, involved in muscle contraction, learning, and memory.
  4. Neuropeptides:

    • Endorphins and Enkephalins: Act as natural painkillers and are involved in mood regulation.
    • Substance P: Functions as a neurotransmitter and is involved in pain perception.
  5. Purines:

    • Adenosine: Influences sleep and relaxation; blocked by caffeine.
  6. Gasotransmitters:

    • Nitric Oxide (NO): Functions as a signaling molecule and neurotransmitter involved in vasodilation and other processes.
  7. Trace Amines:

    • Histamine: Involved in allergic responses and functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain, influencing arousal and attention.

It’s important to note that neurotransmitters can have multiple functions, and their effects depend on the specific receptors they bind to and the type of neurons involved in the synapse. Additionally, some neurotransmitters may act as both excitatory and inhibitory depending on the receptor they bind to.

This classification provides a broad overview, and ongoing research may reveal new neurotransmitters or refine our understanding of existing ones. Additionally, the study of neurotransmitters is a dynamic field, and classification systems may be subject to updates and revisions based on scientific discoveries.

steps in Neurotransmitters

The transmission of signals between neurons involves several steps, collectively known as neurotransmission. Here are the key steps in the process:

  1. Synthesis:

    • Neurotransmitters are synthesized within the neuron. The precursors for neurotransmitters are often obtained from the diet and are transported into the neuron.
  2. Storage:

    • Once synthesized, neurotransmitters are stored in vesicles within the presynaptic terminal. These vesicles are membrane-bound structures that contain a concentrated amount of neurotransmitters.
  3. Release:

    • When an action potential reaches the presynaptic terminal, it depolarizes the membrane, leading to the opening of voltage-gated calcium channels. The influx of calcium into the neuron triggers the fusion of vesicles with the cell membrane, releasing neurotransmitters into the synaptic cleft.
  4. Binding to Receptors:

    • Neurotransmitters cross the synaptic cleft and bind to receptors on the postsynaptic membrane. Receptors are proteins that recognize and respond to specific neurotransmitters. The binding of neurotransmitters to receptors can either excite or inhibit the postsynaptic neuron.
  5. Postsynaptic Potentials:

    • The binding of neurotransmitters to receptors induces changes in the postsynaptic membrane potential. If the neurotransmitter is excitatory, it may lead to depolarization and the generation of an excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP). If the neurotransmitter is inhibitory, it may lead to hyperpolarization and the generation of an inhibitory postsynaptic potential (IPSP).
  6. Propagation of the Signal:

    • If the postsynaptic potential reaches the threshold, it triggers an action potential in the postsynaptic neuron. The action potential then propagates along the length of the neuron, allowing the signal to be transmitted.
  7. Termination of Signal:

    • After neurotransmitters have exerted their effects, mechanisms are in place to terminate the signal. This can occur through reuptake, enzymatic degradation, or diffusion. Reuptake involves the reabsorption of neurotransmitters back into the presynaptic terminal for recycling.
  8. Reuptake and Recycling:

    • Neurotransmitters that were released into the synaptic cleft can be taken back up by the presynaptic neuron through reuptake transporters. Once inside the neuron, neurotransmitters may be repackaged into vesicles or broken down by enzymes for recycling.
  9. Autoregulation:

    • Autoreceptors on the presynaptic neuron can detect the concentration of neurotransmitters in the synaptic cleft. They provide feedback to regulate further neurotransmitter release, helping to maintain balance.
  10. Modulation and Plasticity:

    • The strength of synaptic connections can be modulated through processes like long-term potentiation (LTP) or long-term depression (LTD), contributing to learning and memory.

These steps ensure the precise and regulated transmission of signals within the nervous system, allowing for the complex functions of the brain and the coordination of various physiological processes.

conclusion neurotransmitters

To sum up, neurotransmitters are vital parts of the nervous system that influence a variety of physiological and psychological processes in addition to being critical in the transmission of messages between neurons. The diversity of these signaling molecules is highlighted by the categorization of neurotransmitters based on their chemical structures, each of which has a distinct function in regulating neuronal activity.

Knowing the roles and categories of neurotransmitters is essential to understanding both the normal functioning of the brain and the fundamental causes of neurological and psychiatric diseases. Neurotransmitter dysregulation or imbalances can aggravate anxiety, mood problems, and neurodegenerative illnesses.

New neurotransmitters are still being discovered in the field, and ongoing studies are helping us better comprehend the intricate relationships between them. The development of therapeutic treatments, such as drugs that target certain neurotransmitter systems to treat a variety of neurological and psychiatric problems, depends critically on the research of neurotransmitters.

Scroll to Top