|Neurotransmitters and Neuroactive Peptides||
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| Communication of information between
neurons is accomplished by movement of chemicals across a small gap called
the synapse. Chemicals, called neurotransmitters, are released from one neuron at the
presynaptic nerve terminal. Neurotransmitters then cross the synapse where they may be accepted by the next neuron
at a specialized site called a receptor. The action that
follows activation of a receptor site may be either depolarization (an
excitatory postsynaptic potential) or hyperpolarization (an inhibitory
postsynaptic potential). A depolarization makes it MORE likely that an
action potential will fire; a hyperpolarization
makes it LESS likely that an action potential will fire.
Otto Loewi's Experiment
Synthesis of Neurotransmitters
Acetylcholine is found in both the central and peripheral nervous systems. Choline is taken up by the neuron. When the enzyme called "choline acetyltransferase" is present, choline combines with acetyl coenzyme A (CoA) to produce acetylcholine.
Dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine are a group of neurotransmitters called "catecholamines". Norepinephrine is also called "noradrenalin" and epinephrine is also called "adrenalin". Each of these neurotransmitters is produced in a step-by-step fashion by a different enzyme.
Transport and Release of NeurotransmittersNeurotransmitters are made in the cell body of the neuron and then transported down the axon to the axon terminal. Molecules of neurotransmitters are stored in small "packages" called vesicles (see the picture on the right). Neurotransmitters are released from the axon terminal when their vesicles "fuse" with the membrane of the axon terminal, spilling the neurotransmitter into the synaptic cleft.
Unlike other neurotransmitters, nitric oxide (NO) is not stored in synaptic vesicles. Rather, NO is released soon after it is produced and diffuses out of the neuron. NO then enters another cell where it activates enzymes for the production of "second messengers."
Inactivation of NeurotransmittersThe action of neurotransmitters can be stopped by four different mechanisms
|1. Diffusion: the neurotransmitter drifts away, out of the synaptic cleft where it can no longer act on a receptor.||Diffusion|
|2. Enzymatic degradation (deactivation): a specific enzyme changes the structure of the neurotransmitter so it is not recognized by the receptor. For example, acetylcholinesterase is the enzyme that breaks acetylcholine into choline and acetate.||Enzymatic degradation|
|3. Glial cells: astrocytes remove neurotransmitters from the synaptic cleft.|
Image courtesy of Biodidac
|4. Reuptake: the whole neurotransmitter molecule is taken back into the axon terminal that released it. This is a common way the action of norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin is stopped...these neurotransmitters are removed from the synaptic cleft so they cannot bind to receptors.||Reuptake|
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|Did you know?||The idea for the
famous heart experiment came to Otto Loewi in his sleep. In Loewi's own
"In the night of Easter Saturday, 1921, I awoke, turned on the light, and jotted down a few notes on a tiny slip of paper. Then I fell asleep again. It occurred to me at six o'clock in the morning that during the night I had written down something most important, but I was unable to decipher the scrawl. That Sunday was the most desperate day in my whole scientific life. During the next night, however, I awoke again, at three o'clock, and I remembered what it was. This time I did not take any risk; I got up immediately, went to the laboratory, made the experiment on the frog's heart, described above, and at five o' clock the chemical transmission of nervous impulse was conclusively proved."--- quoted from Loewi, O., From the Workshop of Discoveries, Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1953.
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