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Glossary of Physiology Terms


There are 9 glossary search results for:   neurotransmitter

Chemical messenger molecules released by neurons into the synaptic cleft.

Neurotransmitter molecules may be small molecules such as glutamate, γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), acetylcholine, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine), and glycine. These are referred to as classic neurotransmitters. A neuron generally releases only one type of small classic neurotransmitter.

Neurotransmitters may also be peptide molecules, such as substance P, opioids, and somatostatin. These are referred to as neuropeptides.

Gas molecules, such as nitric oxide (NO), may also act as neurotransmitters.


Acetylcholine (ACh) is a chemical neurotransmitter used by the central nervous system (CNS) as well as the peripheral nervous system (PNS). Acetylcholine is a classical neurotransmitter and, in fact, it was the first of the classic neurotransmitters to be discovered. It was discovered in 1914 by Henry Hallett Dale while conducting experiments on the heart.

Acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter used by the somatic division of the nervous system at the neuromuscular junction (where a somatic motor neuron makes synaptic contact with a skeletal muscle cell). Acetylcholine is also used extensively by both branches of the autonomic nervous system; sympathetic and parasympathetic. It is the primary neurotransmitter released in autonomic ganglia by preganglionic autonomic neurons. It is also the primary neurotransmitter released by parasympathetic postganglionic neurons. A few sympathetic postganglionic neurons also release acetylcholine. The diverse actions of acetylcholine are exerted via the activation of nicotinic and muscarinic ACh receptors.

Other resources:
Acetylcholine (Wikipedia)

Refers to neurons, synapses, or receptors where acetylcholine is used as the neurotransmitter.

For example, cholinergic neurons release acetylcholine as their neurotransmitter.

In cholinergic synapses, acetylcholine is released from the presynaptic neuron, and it acts on acetylcholine receptors in the plasma membrane of the postsynaptic cell.

Cholinergic receptors are those that respond to acetylcholine as the physiological ligand. The two major types are nicotinic and muscarinic cholinergic receptors (may also be referred to as nicotinic and muscarinic acetylcholine receptors).

Cholinergic drugs are compounds that mimic the action of acetylcholine by binding to and activating cholinergic receptors.


GABA is an inhibitory amino acid neurotransmitter in the central and peripheral nervous systems. It is the most abundant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the nervous system. During embryonic development, GABA acts as an excitatory neurotransmitter at some central synapses. GABA is a classical neurotransmitter. Its action is exerted via the activation of GABAA, GABAB, and GABAC receptors. GABAA and GABAC receptors are ligand-gated chloride channels, whereas GABAB receptors are G protein coupled receptors. At GABAergic synapses, the action of GABA is terminated by GABA transporters (GAT), which transport GABA from the extracellular space in synaptic and extrasynaptic regions into neurons and glia.

Glutamate (Glu, E) is one of the standard twenty (20) amino acids used by cells to synthesize peptides, polypeptides, and proteins. It has a molecular weight of 147.13 g/mol. Its side chain has a pKa of 4.07 and, therefore, glutamate has a net negative charge at physiological pH.

In the nervous system, glutamate is an excitatory amino acid neurotransmitter. In fact, glutamate is the most abundant excitatory neurotransmitter in the nervous system. Glutamate is a classical neurotransmitter. Its action is exerted via the activation of glutamate receptors (GluR), some of which are ligand-gated ion channels (ionotropic receptors), and some are G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs, metabotropic receptors). At glutamatergic synapses, the action of glutamate is terminated by glutamate transporters (EAAT, excitatory amino acid transporter), which transport glutamate from the extracellular space in synaptic and extrasynaptic regions into neurons and glia.

Glycine (Gly, G) is one of the standard twenty (20) amino acids. At a molecular weight of 75.07 g/mol, it is the smallest of the 20 amino acids used by cells to synthesize peptides, polypeptides, and proteins.

In the nervous system, glycine is also an inhibitory amino acid neurotransmitter. Glycinergic synapses are most commonly found in brain stem and spinal cord circuits. Glycine is a classical neurotransmitter. Its action is exerted via the activation of ionotropic glycine receptors (GlyR), which are ligand-gated chloride channels. At glycinergic synapses, the action of glycine is terminated by glycine transporters (GlyT), which transport glycine from the extracellular space in synaptic and extrasynaptic regions into neurons and glia.

Neurohormones are chemical messenger molecules that are released by neurons, but enter the bloodstream where they travel to distant target sites within the body. Therefore, neurohormones share characteristics with both neurotransmitters and hormones. Similar to neurotransmitters, neurohormones are released by neurons. Similar to hormones, neurohormones travel in the bloodstream.

Two well-known examples of neurohormones are oxytocin and the antidiuretic hormone (also referred to as vasopressin).

Related glossary terms/phrases:

Secretion refers to cellular release of substances (ions and small and large molecules) to the external environment of the cell. Secretion may be accomplished by exocytosis (fusion of transport vesicles with the plasma membrane and release of vesicle contents to the external environment), by transport of molecules across the plasma membrane (via the activity of transport proteins such as pumps, transporters, and channels), or by simple diffusion of fat-soluble molecules through the plasma membrane out of the cell.

For example, endocrine cells secrete hormone molecules that then enter the bloodstream. Neurons release (i.e., secrete) neurotransmitter molecules into the synaptic cleft. Some neurons secrete neurohormones; which similar to hormones, travel in the bloodstream to reach distant target cells. Epithelial cells secrete molecules in luminal spaces, such as digestive enzymes secreted into the digestive tract by various cell types.

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The main cation (positively charged ion) of the extracellular fluid.

Sodium (Na+) plays an important role in several physiological processes such as the action potential of neurons and muscle cells, secondary active, sodium-coupled transport of ions, nutrients, neurotransmitters across the plasma membrane of cells, and many other processes.

The extracellular concentration of Na+ is about 145 mM. The intracellular concentration of Na+ is about 15 mM.

Posted: Sunday, March 31, 2013
Last updated: Friday, August 28, 2015