A neurotransmitter transmits or delivers messages within the nervous system. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that also serve as communicators between the nervous system and other parts of the body. Presynaptic neurons release neurotransmitters. Once released, they travel across synapses and bind to postsynaptic receptors in the next cell.

Neurotransmitters transfer electrical signals from one neuron to the next. This communication chain allows neurotransmitters to travel from the brain to direct functions throughout your body.

Some important neurotransmitters include:

  • Glycine
  • Serotonin
  • Histamine
  • Dopamine
  • Glutamate
  • Acetylcholine
  • Norepinephrine
  • Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)

Neurotransmitter Functions

Common neurotransmitters are often associated with various functions in the body.

Glutamate is a primary excitatory neurotransmitter. GABA and glycine are the opposite; they inhibit or calm the brain. Dopamine plays a crucial role in reward and motivation. Serotonin helps regulate mood and happiness. Acetylcholine can affect your attention level and digestion.

Neurotransmitters are often synthesized from amino acids. For example, tyrosine is a precursor to both norepinephrine and dopamine.

Neurotransmitter or Hormone?

Some hormones also function as neurotransmitters. For example, oxytocin is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland. It functions as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter.

The distinction between hormones and neurotransmitters depends on where the chemical is produced. The endocrine system produces hormones. The nervous system releases neurotransmitters.