Emotion: Subcellular Level

A large number of neurotransmitters have been identified in the brain, ranging from simple amino acids (e.g., glycine, glutamate) and monoamines (e.g., epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin) to more complex peptides and hormones (e.g., oxytocin, vasopressin, and ACTH). The simpler amino acids and monoamines are faster-acting and may mediate rapid emotional responses, whereas the more complex molecules are longer-acting and may be implicated in more persistent moods (Panksepp, 1993). There are methodological problems in studying the relationship between individual neurotransmitter systems and behavior and many of the studies to date do not provide consistent data. Recent imaging techniques provide a new set of tools by allowing the visualization of the activity of specific neurotransmitter systems during particular behaviors. While some neurotransmitter systems have been associated with particular behaviors the overall system is much too complex to allow for simple one-to-one mappings between a particular neurotransmitter and a specific behavioral tendency or personality trait. With this caveat in mind, below are examples of some neurotransmitter-behavior associations identified to date.

Emotion has for long been associated with the chemistry of the human body. The chemical substances considered vary from blood-born hormones to central neuroactive substances depending on the focus of the research (body or CNS). Because this level of analysis is so accessible to therapeutical application, research has been done in the framework of specific diseases containing affective components.

Central neuroactive Substances and Emotion

Human and experimental models of fear and anxiety have pointed to many substances such as barbiturates or benzodiazepines (Gray 1982). (Malenka et al, 1989) reviewed the biochemical evidence for the role of monoamines in affective disorders. (Malenka et al, 1989) suggest that clinical effects of antidepressant drugs can be best understood by the analysis of the receptors for neuroactive substances (Beta-adrenergic or serotonergic receptors) rather than by the neuroactive substances themselves.

Neuroendocrine substances and Emotion

Most studies looking at blood, urine or cerebrospinal fluid contents of various hormonal and neurochemical substances have focused on the expression of emotion.Henry (1986) and Mason (1975) have reviewed some of the neuroendocrine patterns of emotional response.

Of Related Interest:

Mental Health InfoSource: Source of information from Continuing Medical Education Inc.

Mental Health Clinical Research Center: University of California, San Diego.

Editors: Jean-Marc Fellous

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