Neurotransmitters are a kind of chemical messenger in our body . Its main function is to transmit signals from the nerve cells to the cells present in the muscles, glands and nerves.
In this sense, the brain needs neurotransmitters to regulate many functions necessary for the body such as heart rate, breathing, digestion, sleep, mood, appetite, and muscle movement, among many others.
In this article, we let you know what neurotransmitters are , what functions they perform, and the importance they have in the functioning of the brain.
What are neurotransmitters?
Nerve cells (neurons) fire nerve impulses, through the release of neurotransmitters, chemicals that carry signals to other cells .
Note: Neurotransmitters are what carry messages between cells by binding to specific receptors on other cells. (1)
In this sense, each neurotransmitter binds to a different receptor , for example, dopamine molecules bind to dopamine receptors, which allows successful communication between neurons that send signals to the body, depending on the type of neurotransmitter.
How are neurotransmitters classified?
There are more than 40 neurotransmitters in the nervous system . Below you will see some of the most important:
Dopamine, known as one of the happiness hormones , is a substance that the brain releases when we eat food that we crave or during sex.
In this sense, dopamine contributes to the sensation of pleasure and is part of the reward system . It also increases mood, motivation and attention, and all this helps to improve learning.
On the other hand, dopamine increases goal-directed behavior , stimulates curiosity and the search for information. That is why we can affirm that dopamine is in charge of keeping us motivated .
To highlight: A study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, concluded that dopamine deficiency is related to conditions such as Alzheimer’s, it is also related to depression , binge eating, hypothyroidism and addictions. (two)
Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and is found primarily in the gastrointestinal tract, platelets, and the central nervous system (CNS).
You should know: Serotonin contributes to well-being and happiness and is derived from tryptophan . This neurotransmitter impacts many functions, from emotions to motor skills.
Endorphins are neurotransmitters that are released during situations of stress or pain , which is why it is normal to release them during physical exercise. Endorphins interact with opiate receptors in the brain, to reduce the perception of pain, and act in a similar way to morphine and codeine .
In addition to decreasing the sensation of pain, endorphins generate euphoria, appetite , the release of sex hormones, and an improvement in the immune response.
This causes the airways to dilate, to provide oxygen to the muscles . It also causes blood vessels to constrict to redirect blood to the muscles, heart , and lungs.
Note: The body’s ability to feel pain is also decreased as a result of adrenaline. Adrenaline causes an increase in strength and performance, as well as heightened awareness, in times of stress. (5)
Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter , which is produced in the adrenal glands . The adrenal medulla also produces adrenaline (also known as epinephrine).
Norepinephrine increases blood pressure, helps break down fat , and increases blood sugar levels to provide the body with more energy. Norepinephrine plays a role in the sleep-wake cycle , helping you wake up, increase alertness, and focus. (6)
Important: This neurotransmitter is essential for survival , since in addition to controlling necessary functions for the organism, the body releases it in times of stress , when we most need to stay focused and think more clearly.
Glutamate is involved in all the major functions of the brain . It is estimated that more than half of all synapses in the brain release glutamate, making it the dominant neurotransmitter in neural circuit communication.
To highlight: In the brain, groups of neurons form circuits to carry out specific functions such as memory formation and retrieval . These circuits interconnect with each other to form brain networks.
In this sense, glutamate plays an important role in synaptic plasticity , the ability to strengthen communication between neurons, learning and memory.
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in cognitive function , memory, alertness, attention, and learning. It is also responsible for the neuromuscular junction, that is, it helps to contract muscles . (7)
8. Gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA)
Gamma – aminobutyric acid , better known as GABA, is a neurotransmitter that participates in regulating communication between brain cells , inhibiting or reducing the activity of neurons.
It is the most important inhibitory neurotransmitter , since it is the most frequent and inhibitory neurotransmitters decrease the probability that a nerve impulse will fire.
Note: It also plays an important role in behavior, cognition, and the stress response . It also helps control fear and anxiety.
Histamine promotes wakefulness, orchestrates disparate behaviors, and homeostatic functions . These substances help the body stay awake and get rid of something that bothers it, in this case, triggering allergens. (8)
In addition, histamine plays an essential role in regulating vital rhythms . Thanks to histamine we are able to keep our sleep rhythm stable. This is why many sleeping pills contain histamine.
Tachykinin is a neurotransmitter involved in pain and in the regulation of involuntary body functions , such as heartbeat and breathing.
You should know: Tachykinin facilitates communication between neurons in response to pain and also helps drive heartbeat, breathing, digestion and other vital functions.
As if that were not enough, glycine also assists in tissue regeneration , thanks to its action as an amino acid.
To highlight: Like other neurotransmitters, glycine allows us to stay calm and avoid stress.
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is a neurotransmitter that fulfills the important function of generating energy in the body. When we eat food, our body digests it to obtain nutrients, which are processed to generate ATP , the food for cells.
In this sense, the main function of ATP is to obtain energy , but it also plays an important role in the control of blood vessels, the activity of the heart, the regulation of sensory information, and mental processes.
What is the importance of neurotransmitters in the nervous system?
Neurons are essential to the nervous system . They transmit information in the form of electrical signals to each other.
Since neurons are not connected to each other, the electrical impulse is transmitted by means of neurotransmitters. For this reason , neurotransmitters are vital for brain function , since without them we could not carry out any action. (10)
In this sense, to prevent certain conditions such as depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson ‘s it is important to maintain the balance of neurotransmitters .
Important: There is no way to ensure that neurotransmitters are working properly. However, leading a healthy lifestyle that includes a varied diet and regular exercise can help.
- Neurotransmitters are what transmit messages between cells , binding to specific receptors on other cells.
- Its main function is to transmit signals from the nerve cells to the cells present in the muscles, glands and nerves.
- There are more than 40 neurotransmitters in the nervous system , such as dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, endorphins, glutamate, among others.
- Neurotransmitters are vital for brain function , since without them we could not carry out any action.
- To prevent certain conditions such as depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson ‘s it is important to maintain the balance of neurotransmitters .