Neurotransmitters – what are they?

If you stop to think for a moment about all the brain functions that go into our every movement and every thought, it is pretty incredible. Our brains are an amazingly complex organ that controls every part of us, including things like movement, digestion, speech, memory, etc. In order to make all of these things happen, brain neurons have to have a way to communicate information along their chains. This is where neurotransmitters function in a healthy brain.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that are manufactured in the cell body of a neuron. After they are made, they travel down the axon to the end of the neuron where they are stored in what are called vesicles. Each neuron has a terminal side and a receptor side. In between one neuron and the next is a gap called the synapse. In order for information to be passed from one neuron to the next, an electrical reaction releases the neurotransmitters and sends them across the synapse to the receptor end of the next neuron. After they have done their job of taking information across the gap of the synapse, the neurotransmitters are then destroyed or recycled and the process of forming new neurotransmitters is again working in the cell body of the neuron.

Otto Loewi, a German biologist, was the first to discover the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine in 1921 when he was doing experiments with a nerve in frog hearts. This neurotransmitter function is most often involved in muscle stimulation. In 1946, norepinephrine was discovered by a Swedish biologist named Ulf von Euler. This neurotransmitter is a major player in the fight or flight response. It increases the heart rate and blood pressure. Both biologists would later win Nobel Prizes for their discoveries.

Neurotransmitters play a pivotal role in the passing of information from one neuron to the next. Without neurotransmitters, the synapse would be a vast void where information would not cross. Without these essential messengers, our brain function would stop working.

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