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Neurotransmitter Agents: Substances used for their pharmacological actions on any aspect of neurotransmitter systems. Neurotransmitter agents include agonists, antagonists, degradation inhibitors, uptake inhibitors, depleters, precursors, and modulators of receptor function.

Synaptic Signaling

JoVE 10717

Neurons communicate at synapses, or junctions, to excite or inhibit the activity of other neurons or target cells, such as muscles. Synapses may be chemical or electrical.

Most synapses are chemical. That means that an electrical impulse—or action potential—spurs the release of chemical messengers. These chemical messengers are also called neurotransmitters. The neuron sending the signal is called the presynaptic neuron. The neuron receiving the signal is the postsynaptic neuron. The presynaptic neuron fires an action potential that travels through its axon. The end of the axon, or axon terminal, contains neurotransmitter-filled vesicles. The action potential opens voltage-gated calcium ion channels in the axon terminal membrane. Ca2+ rapidly enters the presynaptic cell (due to the higher external Ca2+ concentration), enabling the vesicles to fuse with the terminal membrane and release neurotransmitters. The space between presynaptic and postsynaptic cells is called the synaptic cleft. Neurotransmitters released from the presynaptic cell rapidly populate the synaptic cleft and bind to receptors on the postsynaptic neuron. The binding of neurotransmitters instigates chemical changes in the postsynaptic neuron, such as opening or closing ion channels. This, in turn, alters the membrane potential of the postsynapti

 Core: Biology

The Synapse

JoVE 10997

Neurons communicate with one another by passing on their electrical signals to other neurons. A synapse is the location where two neurons meet to exchange signals. At the synapse, the neuron that sends the signal is called the presynaptic cell, while the neuron that receives the message is called the postsynaptic cell. Note that most neurons can be both presynaptic and postsynaptic, as they both transmit and receive information. An electrical synapse is one type of synapse in which the pre- and postsynaptic cells are physically coupled by proteins called gap junctions. This allows electrical signals to be directly transmitted to the postsynaptic cell. One feature of these synapses is that they can transmit electrical signals extremely quickly—sometimes at a fraction of a millisecond—and do not require any energy input. This is often useful in circuits that are part of escape behaviors, such as that found in the crayfish that couples the sensation of a predator with the activation of the motor response. In contrast, transmission at chemical synapses is a stepwise process. When an action potential reaches the end of the axonal terminal, voltage-gated calcium channels open and allows calcium ions to enter. These ions trigger fusion of neurotransmitter-containing vesicles with the cellular membrane, releasing neurotransmitters into the small space

 Core: Biology

Neuron Structure

JoVE 10842

Neurons are the main type of cell in the nervous system that generate and transmit electrochemical signals. They primarily communicate with each other using neurotransmitters at specific junctions called synapses. Neurons come in many shapes that often relate to their function, but most share three main structures: an axon and dendrites that extend out from a cell body.

The neuronal cell body—the soma— houses the nucleus and organelles vital to cellular function. Extending from the cell body are thin structures that are specialized for receiving and sending signals. Dendrites typically receive signals while the axon passes on the signals to other cells, such as other neurons or muscle cells. The point at which a neuron makes a connection to another cell is called a synapse. Neurons receive inputs primarily at postsynaptic terminals, which are frequently located on spines—small bumps protruding from the dendrites. These specialized structures contain receptors for neurotransmitters and other chemical signals. Dendrites are often highly branched, allowing some neurons to receive tens of thousands of inputs. Neurons most commonly receive signals at their dendrites, but they can also have synapses in other areas, such as the cell body. The signal received at the synapses travels down the dendrite to the soma, where the cell can proce

 Core: Biology

Action Potentials

JoVE 10844

Neurons communicate by firing action potentials—the electrochemical signal that is propagated along the axon. The signal results in the release of neurotransmitters at axon terminals, thereby transmitting information in the nervous system. An action potential is a specific “all-or-none” change in membrane potential that results in a rapid spike in voltage.

Neurons typically have a resting membrane potential of about -70 millivolts (mV). When they receive signals—for instance, from neurotransmitters or sensory stimuli—their membrane potential can hyperpolarize (become more negative) or depolarize (become more positive), depending on the nature of the stimulus. If the membrane becomes depolarized to a specific threshold potential, voltage-gated sodium (Na+) channels open in response. Na+ has a higher concentration outside of the cell as compared to the inside, so it rushes in when the channels open, moving down its electrochemical gradient. As positive charge flows in, the membrane potential becomes even more depolarized, in turn opening more channels. As a result, the membrane potential quickly rises to a peak of around +40 mV. At the peak of the action potential, several factors drive the potential back down. The influx of Na+ slows because the Na+ channels start to inactiv

 Core: Biology

Exocytosis

JoVE 10711

Exocytosis is used to release material from cells. Like other bulk transport mechanisms, exocytosis requires energy.

While endocytosis takes particles into the cell, exocytosis removes them. Sometimes, the released material are signaling molecules. For example, neurons typically use exocytosis to release neurotransmitters. Cells also use exocytosis to insert proteins, such as ion channels, into their cell membranes, secrete proteins for use in the extracellular matrix, or release waste. There are two main types of exocytosis in eukaryotes: regulated and non-regulated (or constitutive). Regulated exocytosis, which requires an external signal, is used to release neurotransmitters and secrete hormones. Unlike regulated exocytosis, constitutive exocytosis is carried out by all cells. Cells use constitutive exocytosis to release components of the extracellular matrix or incorporate proteins into the plasma membrane. There are five major steps in regulated exocytosis and four in constitutive exocytosis. The first step is vesicle trafficking, in which vesicles transport material to the plasma membrane. Motor proteins actively move vesicles along cytoskeletal tracks of microtubules and filaments. The second step is vesicle tethering, in which vesicles are linked to the plasma membrane. In the third step, vesicle docking, the vesicle membrane at

 Core: Biology

What is Cell Signaling?

JoVE 10985

Despite the protective membrane that separates a cell from the environment, cells need the ability to detect and respond to environmental changes. Additionally, cells often need to communicate with one another. Unicellular and multicellular organisms use a variety of cell signaling mechanisms to communicate to respond to the environment.

Cells respond to many types of information, often through receptor proteins positioned on the membrane. For example, skin cells respond to and transmit touch information, while photoreceptors in the retina can detect light. Most cells, however, have evolved to respond to chemical signals, including hormones, neurotransmitters, and many other types of signaling molecules. Cells can even coordinate different responses elicited by the same signaling molecule. Typically, cell signaling involves three steps: (1) reception of the signal, (2) signal transduction, and (3) a response. In most signal reception, a membrane-impermeable molecule, or ligand, causes a change in a membrane receptor; however, some signaling molecules, such as hormones, can traverse the membrane to reach their internal receptors. The membrane receptor can then send this signal to intracellular messengers, which transduces the message into a cellular response. This intracellular response may include a change transcription, translation, protein activation,

 Core: Biology

Neural Regulation

JoVE 10835

Digestion begins with a cephalic phase that prepares the digestive system to receive food. When our brain processes visual or olfactory information about food, it triggers impulses in the cranial nerves innervating the salivary glands and stomach to prepare for food.

The cephalic phase is a conditioned or learned response to familiar foods. Our appetite or desire for a particular food modifies the preparatory responses directed by the brain. Individuals may produce more saliva and stomach rumblings in anticipation of apple pie than of broccoli. Appetite and desire are products of the hypothalamus and amygdala—brain areas associated with visceral processes and emotion. After the cephalic phase, digestion is governed by the enteric nervous system (ENS) as an unconditioned reflex. Individuals do not have to learn how to digest food; it happens regardless of whether it is apple pie or broccoli. The ENS is unique in that it functions (mostly) independent of the brain. About 90% of the communication are messages sent from the ENS to the brain rather than the other way around. These messages give the brain information about satiety, nausea, or bloating. The ENS, as part of the peripheral nervous system, is also unique in that it contains both motor and sensory neurons. For example, the ENS directs smooth muscle movements that churn and propel food al

 Core: Biology

What is the Endocrine System?

JoVE 10875

The endocrine system sends hormones—chemical signals—through the bloodstream to target cells—the cells the hormones selectively affect. These signals are produced in endocrine cells, secreted into the extracellular fluid, and then diffuse into the blood. Eventually, they diffuse out of the blood and bind to target cells which have specialized receptors to recognize the hormones. While most hormones travel through the circulatory system to reach their target cells, there are also alternate routes to bring hormones to target cells. Paracrine signaling sends hormones out of the endocrine cell and into the extracellular fluid where they affect local cells. In a form of paracrine signaling, called autocrine signaling, hormones secreted into the extracellular fluid affect the cell that secreted them. Another type of signaling, synaptic signaling, involves the release of neurotransmitters from neuron terminals into the synapse—a specialized junction that relays information between neurons—where they bind to receptors on neighboring neurons, muscle cells, and glands. In neuroendocrine signaling, neurosecretory cells secrete neurohormones that travel through the blood to affect target cells. Overall, endocrine signaling has a slower effect than other types of signaling because it takes longer for hormones to reach the target cel

 Core: Biology
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