Neurotransmitters, messenger substances and messengers of happiness

Which substances in the brain have which effect? How can you eliminate a deficiency? What happens in an overdose? We tell you this and much more in our detailed articles on new transmitters and messenger substances

What are neurotransmitters?

The human body uses chemical messengers in the form of neurotransmitters to pass signals between and within our nervous system. Various neurotransmitters jump in a controlled manner across the synaptic space between our nerves and other cells (muscles, sensory organs, glands...).

The concert of making, transporting, releasing, binding, breaking down, and reuptake of various neurotransmitters controls everything from our breathing and heart rate, appetite and digestion, all voluntary and involuntary movements, our reflexes, and all five senses.

Neurotransmitter signaling is fundamentally responsible for every aspect of our personality: thought patterns, moods, emotions, desires, and the clarity (or distortion) of perception. Neurotransmitters also underlie the storage and recall of all our memories, our dreams, and even allow us to perceive and record our imaginations.

Every day we boot a human personality within the confines of a fantastic human body. Our moods, personality, cognition, and consciousness are all mediated through the production, passage, and binding of fluctuating levels of a variety of neurotransmitters.

These tiny molecules are made and managed by genes, enzymes, hormones, macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates), vitamins, minerals, and the body's many interactions with our physical and chemical environment. No part of life as we know it as animals would be possible without them.

We can exert deep control over our psycho-emotional states by modulating our neurotransmitters. For better or worse, we are already well on our way to doing so.

There are at least 50 neurotransmitters, and we're still discovering more. Here are the primary neurotransmitters:


  • dopamine
  • norepinephrine
  • adrenaline
  • serotonin
  • melatonin
  • histamine

amino acids

  • L-Theanine
  • γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)
  • glutamate
  • aspartate
  • glycine
  • D-serine

Other neurotransmitters

  • acetylcholine
  • adenosine
  • endorphins
  • anandamide
  • nitric oxide

Here is a real life example:

Caffeine is a competitive inhibitor of the inhibitory neurotransmitter adenosine. When the caffeine we ingest crosses the blood-brain barrier, it competes with adenosine for sites in the postsynaptic adenosine receptors. When caffeine occupies the limited adenosine receptors, it blocks the normal inhibitory effects of adenosine, resulting in greater central nervous system stimulation. It is only then that we experience caffeine's potentially powerful stimulating effects on this single neurotransmitter.

The use of antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs (which affect neurotransmitters) has skyrocketed over the past decade. In a 2005 study, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examined 2.4 billion prescription drugs during doctor and hospital visits. Of that, 118 million were antidepressants, the most of any drug category. Blood pressure medications were the second most common with 113 million prescriptions.

The 3 most important systems related to the neurotransmitters are:

  • Cholinergic system (acetylcholine)
  • Serotonergic system (serotonin)
  • Dopaminergic system (dopamine)