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. 


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

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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 Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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