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Neuropharmacology is a branch of pharmacology that focuses on the study of how drugs affect the nervous system. It delves into the interactions between neurotransmitters, neuromodulators, and receptors in the brain and peripheral nervous system, aiming to understand how drugs can modify the function of neural networks and influence behavior. This field is crucial for developing medications that treat neurological disorders, such as depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease. By exploring the molecular and cellular effects of drugs on neural processes, neuropharmacologists work to design more effective and targeted therapies with fewer side effects.
The field is divided into two main areas: behavioral and molecular neuropharmacology. Behavioral neuropharmacology examines the effects of drugs on cognitive and behavioral functions, while molecular neuropharmacology looks at the biochemical and genetic basis of drug action. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, neurological disorders affect an estimated 50 million Americans annually, which underscores the importance of neuropharmacology in public health. Through ongoing research and clinical trials, neuropharmacologists are at the forefront of discovering new treatments that can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals with neurological conditions.
Neuropharmacology is a branch of neuroscience involving the study of drugs that alter the nervous system and its functioning, specifically within the brain. The goal of neuropharmacology in general is to understand the basic functioning of impulses and signals within the brain in order to discover ways in which drugs can be used to treat neurological disorders and drug dependence. There are two branches of neuropharmacology: behavioral and molecular.
Behavioral neuropharmacology focuses on drug dependence and the ways that addictive drugs affect the human mind. Molecular neuropharmacology involves the study of neurons, neurotransmitters, and neuron receptors with the goal of developing new drugs that will treat neurological disorders such as depression, psychosis, and schizophrenia. To understand the potential advances in medicine that neuropharmacology can bring, it is important to understand how thought impulses are transferred from neuron to neuron and how medications can alter the chemical foundations of these processes.
Neurons pass messages to one another through the use of different brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Each neuron has a receptor that accepts messages. Messages, however, can get interrupted in one of four ways when traveling between neurons.
First, the neurotransmitter can drift away so that the message is never passed on. This is called diffusion. The neurotransmitter can also undergo enzymatic degradation, or deactivation, where a specific enzyme changes the neurotransmitter so that the accepting neuron no longer recognizes the neurotransmitter and will not accept it.
The third problem that can occur comes when glial cells, which nourish neurons, remove neurotransmitters before the message can be accepted by the next neuron. Finally, reuptake can occur. In this process, the neuron transmitter is taken back into the neuron that released it.
One advance in neuropharmacology that has taken advantage of the way neurotransmitters work is the use of “blockers.” These are drugs that artificially fill a neuron receptor so that it cannot accept an undesired signal from another neuron. In this way, drugs have been developed to fight drug addiction, filling the neuron’s desire for a particular chemical without delivering the actual drug to the neurons.
This same method has been used to treat depression by preventing the reuptake of neurotransmitters like serotonin that promote feelings of well-being. By blocking the receptor in the cells that emit serotonin, the cell cannot reabsorb the chemical. This allows the neurotransmitter to go forward and transmit the signals as it would in a normal, healthy brain.