This is painting of serotonin molecules acting as neurotransmitters in the brain. Because of the widespread use of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) this is the depiction and story of serotonin that most people are familiar with. SSRIs are often used as a safe treatment for depression or anxiety disorders and they effect how the serotonin is absorbed- or blocked from absorption.
The serotonin starts out on the left, synthesized by tryptophan, then it travels to the synapse (the space between the cells) and binds with its appropriate neurotransmitter (the seven spiral clusters o the right) and in this particular case the 5-HT1A and 5-HT2A receptors and then it sends an electrical message on down the road effecting the way we think and feel.
On the left depicted in red with 12 spirals, is the serotonin transporter. That is the mechanism that is targeted by SSRI antidepressant medications. The medications are created to block the serotonin transporter. The transporter wants to scoop up the serotonin and reabsorb it back into the cell but SSRIs bind to the transporter, stopping it from doing that so that more serotonin stays in the synapses, giving it more opportunity to bind with its appropriate receptors.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the role of serotonin in the treatment for depression is what has made this molecule famous, but it's really only a fraction of the real story behind serotonin. There are are at least 14 other receptors in the body affected by serotonin. Everything from itch sensations to appetite control and taste are regulated in some way by serotonin. Because of all of this information that I was unaware of when I picked serotonin as my headliner for the month, I hope to keep this topic alive as we head into the new year so I can share more of what I am learning. It's a very inspirational bit of science that lends itself beautifully to art and info graphics. I thought serotonin was the happiness molecule but it's so much, much more!
I learned all of this with the help of the brilliant SciCurious a.k.a. Bethany Brookshire whose work you can read about at Science News. Thank you so much for all of your help so far, Bethany! You are a genius and I'm lucky to know you!
*The elements in this piece are not to scale. I took some artistic liberties in order to clearly represent the main elements in this neural reaction.
The painting's photo is attached to this post if you would like a larger view.