Scientists Say: Neurotransmitters

This is a word for the chemicals that shuttle messages between cells

This diagram shows one cell (top) communicating with another (bottom). The top cell releases a neurotransmitter (orange), which binds to the receptors (blue) on the receiving cell. 

NIDA

Neurotransmitters (noun, “NER-oh-TRANS-mit-ters”)

Chemicals that carry messages between cells. The first cell releases small bubbles filled with neurotransmitters into the space between itself and its neighbor. This space is called a synapse. The molecules cross the gap. Then, they bind to docking-station molecules called receptors. These receptors then release the signal into the receiving cell.

In a sentence

Every time a nerve needs to make a muscle move, it releases a burst of neurotransmitters.

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Power Words

(for more about Power Words, click here)

neuron  The impulse-conducting cells that make up the brain, spinal column and nervous system.

neurotransmitter    A chemical released at the end of a neuron to carry a message to a neighboring cell. This chemical travels across the space between two cells, and then binds to molecules on a neighboring cell to transmit a message. Neurotransmitters are released from neurons, and can bind to neurons or to other types of cell, including those that make up muscles or glands.

receptor  (in biology) A molecule in cells that serves as a docking station for another molecule. That second molecule can turn on some special activity by the cell.

synapse  The junction between neurons that transmits chemical and electrical signals.

Bethany is the staff writer at Science News for Students. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

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