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A bit of a chemistry/biology tie in today with a series of posters looking at the chemical structures of some of the main neurotransmitters in the brain. I’ve also included a little information on the main effects and roles of each underneath the structures – however, I’d hasten to add that, since this is definitely more an area of interest than an area of expertise for me, I’ve kept it pretty general.It’s interesting looking at the structures and being able to notice the similarities. Considering the similarities in naming, the similarity between adrenaline and noradrenaline perhaps isn’t too surprising, but dopamine’s structure isn’t too far removed from either. The structures of GABA, acetylcholine and glutamate are also fairly closely related.

I selected these neurotransmitters as they are some of the most well known – however, there are in fact over 100 known agents that can act as neurotransmitters. In general, communication between neurons in the brain is accomplished by the movement of neurotransmitting chemicals across the gap (synapse) between them. They are released from the ‘terminal’ of one neuron, and accepted by the receptor on the next neuron. The effect that this process has will depend on the class of neurotransmitter.

There are two main classes of neurotransmitter: excitatory and inhibitory. Excitatory neurotransmitters cause neurons to fire ‘action potentials’ – essentially an electrical signal – whilst inhibitory neurotransmitters prevent action potentials being fired. Action potentials play an important role in cell to cell communication; for example, in muscle cells, the firing of an action potential will eventually lead to contraction.

Different neurotransmitters will affect brain activity in different ways. There’s plenty more information on this page from the National Institute of Mental Health’s site.

I decided to use molymod colours to represent the atoms in the molecules, as since pupils will definitely have used these it should make the molecule structures easy to interpret. Part of the inspiration for the molecule design also came from these posts on tumblr.

Download the combined graphics as an A3 PDF here, or download the individual posters as a ZIP file here.

They’re also available on the site’s store to purchase in A2, A1 & AO versions.

Thanks to @mlle_capsaicin on twitter for feedback & the suggestion on including EpiPen info for adrenaline.

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