Receptors and Molecular Signaling
- Published30 Nov 2022
- Author Diane A. Kelly
- Source BrainFacts/SfN
Neurons have receptors for many molecules that can change the way they function. These molecules include hormones, which send the brain specific cues about the condition and activity of distant tissues in the body; neuromodulators such as the endocannabinoids, cannabis-like chemicals that seem to suppress neurotransmitter release; and prostaglandins, small lipids that change the brain’s response (increasing pain sensitivity) to pain and inflammation.
Individual neurons have receptors for different subsets of hormones and neuromodulators. In each case, these molecules are signals that trigger a series of chemical reactions inside the cell. The process starts when one of these molecules binds to its specific receptor. If the receptor is on the surface of the cell, the bound molecule changes the receptor’s shape across the cell membrane and starts a chain of intracellular reactions. This signal transduction pathway ultimately modifies neuronal function, either by shifting the cell’s ion balance or by changing the activity of specific enzymes.
If a molecule can diffuse through the cell membrane — as occurs with steroid hormones like estradiol or cortisol — its receptor might be a protein inside the neuron’s soma. When the hormone binds to its receptor, the complex can transform into a transcription factor that is capable of entering the cell nucleus, binding to specific genes and changing their activity.
Adapted from the 8th edition of Brain Facts by Diane A. Kelly.
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