Image Caption : Neurotransmitter Pathways in the Brain : Neurotransmitters, the chemicals released by nerve cells at the neural synapses, are an important key to how emotions may be regulated in your brain. They are the chemicals that convey information between nerve cells and are known to follow predictable paths. About 50 neurotransmitters have been identified. Researchers have discovered associations between depression and the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA activity can be studied by observing the known brain areas where it is present.
Neuromodulation is the physiological process by which a given neuron uses one or more neurotransmitters to regulate diverse populations of neurons. This is in contrast to classical synaptic transmission, in which one presynaptic neuron directly influences a single postsynaptic partner. Neuromodulators secreted by a small group of neurons diffuse through large areas of the nervous system, affecting multiple neurons. Major neuromodulators in the central nervous system include dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, histamine, and norepinephrine.
Neuromodulation can be conceptualized as a neurotransmitter that is not reabsorbed by the pre-synaptic neuron or broken down into a metabolite. Such neuromodulators end up spending a significant amount of time in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), influencing (or "modulating") the activity of several other neurons in the brain. For this reason, some neurotransmitters are also considered to be neuromodulators, such as serotonin and acetylcholine.
Neuromodulation is often contrasted with classical fast synaptic transmission. In both cases the transmitter acts on local postsynaptic receptors, but in neuromodulation, the receptors are typically G-protein coupled receptors while in classical chemical neurotransmission, they are ligand-gated ion channels. Neurotransmission that involves metabotropic receptors (like G-protein linked receptors) often also involves voltage-gated ion channels, and is relatively slow. Conversely, neurotransmission that involves exclusively ligand-gated ion channels is much faster. A related distinction is also sometimes drawn between modulator and driver synaptic inputs to a neuron, but here the emphasis is on modulating ongoing neuronal spiking versus causing that spiking.
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