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What are Neurotransmitters?

What are Neurotransmitters?

Picture yourself on a Friday evening sitting on the sofa watching a thriller movie. As the plot thickens your heart starts to race, you continue to predict what will happen next, you nervously shove your favorite snack into your mouth as you watch a crazy chase scene -- if someone were to stop and ask what you were doing you would most likely say “nothing, just watching a movie”. You probably wouldn’t have guessed but this ‘simple task’ of watching a movie is in fact a very complex process occurring in your brain.

The human brain is the most magnificent computer. Essentially your brain is what makes you, you! The brain is separated into several sections that are all responsible for something different. To give you an idea -- we have a section dedicated specifically for language, and a section dedicated specifically for holding our memories, and even a section dedicated for projecting our feelings. As I’m sure you can imagine, there is a lot jam-packed in there!

Let’s go back to the example of watching the movie. What you think is just ‘simply watching a movie’ is actually several different complex processes, for example, there is the process of the light stimulus from the screen hitting your eye to activate the picture you see. Another process is the muscular movements from your hand, arm, and jaw to eat that snack you love. A different process is the logical thinking going through your mind to predict the next move in the film -- and the list goes on, and on! With this one simple task of watching a movie, your brain is sending thousands of messages across your brain and all over your body to make it possible! So how does the brain communicate? Well, it does so through the use of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the body’s chemical messengers that transfer information throughout the brain and nervous system.

In order to understand neurotransmitters, first we need to understand what are neurons. As an analogy - think of sending a package. The neurons are processing centers the package goes through on the way to its destination, and the neurotransmitters are the trucks that drive it from shipping source to processing center(s) to its final destination. Depending on how far the package (message) has to go, and what the message entails, there can be multiple trucks (neurotransmitters) and processing centers (neurons) on its journey.

In your brain, neurons are located throughout the entire body and connect to one another for neurotransmitters to travel to different destinations throughout the body in order to carry out messages. These messages can be anything from your brain telling your legs to walk to allowing you to remember the answer to that history question on the test you memorized. It is the neurotransmitter that holds the actual message but it is the neuron that receives the message, integrates it, and sends the message elsewhere if need be.

To learn more check out How The Brain ‘Talks’ and What are the Main Neurotransmitters?