One way to understand mental life is through its chemistry. Without neurotransmitters at its base, mental life wouldn’t be possible.
The entire human body works thanks to its chemistry. The body’s chemical reactions and combinations make us who we are. And mental life is not an exception. Conversely, mental life is a massive example of the body’s chemistry.
Mental life is still a little-known subject. We have a lot to learn about the brain, but thanks to its chemistry, we have a way to understand it. Neurotransmitters carry and distribute the brain’s messages all around the body.
Types of Neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters carry and deliver signals around the body that help it to function and to regulate those functions. This process happens in three different ways.
- The neurotransmitter carries and delivers messages from one neuron to another.
- The neurotransmitter travels from a neuron to a target cell on a muscle.
- The neurotransmitter travels from a neuron to a target gland.
But the neurotransmitter’s function and mechanism of action depend on the type it is. That means every kind of neurotransmitter has a specific way to act, and a particular task. For that reason, there are many ways to classify neurotransmitters. We can classify neurotransmitters depending on their structure and mechanism of action, but we can also organize them depending on what they do and how they do it.
About this topic, PhD. Valenzuela, Puglia, and M. Sc Zucca on their 2011 manuscript Focus On: Neurotransmitter Systems established:
…neurons throughout the developing central nervous system generate oscillatory electrical activity that plays a central role in the construction of neuronal networks. These unique properties contribute to the formation and maturation of neuronal circuits and also make immature neuronal networks particularly susceptible to genetic or environmental insultsPhD. Valenzuela, Puglia, and M. Sc Zucca. (2011). Focus On: Neurotransmitter Systems.
That function is essential because there are tons of neurotransmitters. Until now, researchers have found over 60 different neurotransmitters. But there is still a lot to get to know about them. Currently, there are two main ways to classify neurotransmitters:
- Neurotransmitters are classified based on their function. Under this model, there are three main types of neurotransmitters.
- There are six main types of neurotransmitters.
Classification By Their Function
Neurotransmitters carry messages codified as signals. Those signals will provoke a specific reaction in the receptor cell. In that way, neurotransmitters can have many functions because they are simply the effects they will have on the receptor cell. And as we know, those receptor cells can be other neurons, muscle cells, or target glands.
Neurotransmitters can provoke an action potential (or activation) in the receptor cell. In contrast, others can cause an inhibition of that activation (or inactivation). And the last type can regulate both types.
- Excitatory Neurotransmitters: They generate an action potential on the receptor cell. That means they increase the conditions on the receptor neuron to fire the action potential. That is why this type of neurotransmitter has an activation effect because they increase the excitability in the postsynaptic area, which allows the transmission of the electric signal.
- Inhibitory Neurotransmitters: They inhibit the action potential on the receptor cell. That means they decrease the conditions on the receptor neuron that allow the firing of the action potential. That is why this type of neurotransmitters has a deactivation effect. They reduce the excitability in the postsynaptic area, which prevents the propagation of the electrical signal
- Modulatory Neurotransmitters: Also known as neuromodulators. These types of neurotransmitters have a regulation function because they affect the strength of transmission between neurons. That is how these neurotransmitters handle the quantity of the neurotransmitter produced or released. In that way, neuromodulators regulate the effects of other types of neurotransmitters
Classification By Their Structure
Another way to classify neurotransmitters is by their structure. Like any other chemicals, neurotransmitters are substances composed of small organic molecules. In that way, the basic structure of neurotransmitters includes amine and peptide functional groups. There are six types of neurotransmitters under this classification:
- Amino Acids: These neurotransmitters are common in the nervous system. Amino acid chemicals handle most of the excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission in the nervous system. The most common inhibitory amino acid neurotransmitters are gamma-amino-butyric acid and glycine. And the most common excitatory amino acid neurotransmitters are glutamate, aspartate, and cysteic acid. Also, this type of neurotransmitters’ release is a presynaptic response.
- Peptides: These neurotransmitters are small protein molecules that are also known as hormones, some of which regulate emotions. Most of these neurotransmitters influence brain function and the relation between the brain and the rest of the body. Neuropeptides’ receptors are metabotropic. These types of neurotransmitters include opioids, endorphins, and oxytocin.
- Monoamines: They are mostly modulatory neurotransmitters. These are composed of one amino group connected to an aromatic ring by two carbon chains—for example, serotonin, dopamine, and histamine.
- Gasotransmitters: These neurotransmitters are small gaseous molecules. The most common of these are nitric oxide and carbon monoxide.
- Acetylcholine: This is a neurotransmitter mostly based in the central nervous system. Its function is related to motor neurons. But researchers found it also pertained to learning and movement.
Now, it might seem pretty complex. But this is the chemical way to understand mental life. As you have read, neurotransmitters are chemicals that have many functions. Those functions can be seen as electric impulses. And the result of those impulses is not only mental life but also the operation of the rest of the body.
These neurotransmitters bring you to life. And are also a tool to understand the main mental disorders. So, stay tuned! There is still a lot more to know about neurotransmitters and mental life.