What Is a Neurotransmitter Anyways?
A neurotransmitter is essentially a chemical messenger that carries messages between neurons. They are produced in the neurons and are recycled through a process called re-uptake.
Ok……but what is a neuron?
A neuron is a specialized nerve cell that transmits nerve impulses. So basically neurons need to be able to talk to one another and neurotransmitters are how they do that. Neurons never touch one another, so the neurotransmitter acts as a communicator for them. Imagine having two divorced parents who hate each other and will only communicate through you. So, for example, your mom would tell you a message and then you would leave her house and go to your dad’s house across the street to tell him. Then, you would travel back to your mom’s house and wait for another message before being sent out again.
Think of neurotransmitters in the same way. Neurotransmitters are held in the axon terminal button of the neuron until it is time for them to travel and communicate a message. After release, neurotransmitters travel through a gap called the synapse and arrive at their destination neuron activating an electrical impulse.
Head over here to learn more about neurons:
Ok, so now we know what neurotransmitters are, but now you may be asking ‘which ones should I know’? Well, you’re in luck because I’ve made a nifty chart to help you learn the 7 most important neurotransmitters.
|NEUROTRANSMITTER||TYPE||FUNCTION||TOO MUCH?||TOO LITTLE?|
|Acetylcholine (ACH)||Excitatory||-Voluntary muscle control-Parasympathetic nervous system-Attention-Alertness -Learning and memory||Muscle spasms||Alzheimer’s|
|Dopamine||Inhibitory||-Smooth movements-postural stability -mood and emotion-arousal||-Schizophrenia-Drug addiction||Parkinson’s|
|Serotonin||Inhibitory||-Mood regulation-Sleep-Eating-Dreaming||Hallucinations||Depression and mood disorders|
|Epinephrine and Norepinephrine||Excitatory||-Fight-or-flight responses-Wakefulness -Alertness -Mood elevation||Anxiety||Mental disorders, specifically depression|
|GABA and Glycine||Inhibitory||-Brain “stabilization”-Regulates sleep-wake cycles||Sleeping and eating disorders||-Anxiety-Epilepsy-Insomnia-Huntington’s disease|
|Glutamate||Excitatory||-Brain excitation-Learning and long-term memory||-Overstimulation of brain which can lead to seizures and migraines||N/A|
|Endorphins||Inhibitory||-Natural painkillers-Reduction of stress-positive emotions||-Inadequate response to pain-Artificial highs||Potential for addiction–especially with opiates|
If you were like wow, another boring table? Here’s a graphic I whipped up that you might find more aesthetically pleasing:
Now you may be saying: “I’m going over this chart, but there’s no way I’m going to memorize all of that! Is there an easier way?”
Well indeed there is, my scholarly friend! Click here to head to another article about how to memorize the neurotransmitters using mnemonics!
Sources/Where to Head to learn more: