How disappointment works in the brain

Posted on September 30, 2014

That feeling of disappointment is linked with a rather uncommon type of brain signaling, new research shows. It involves the finely tuned, simultaneous firing of two different neurotransmitters in the brain and it is the ratio of the two neurotransmitters, one enhancing and one dampening positive feelings, that determines where on the disappointment spectrum you'll fall.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that relay signals from one neuron to the next. The brain and nervous system use dozens of neurotransmitters to enable thought and movement.

In the new study, a team of scientists led by Dr. Roberto Malinow, a professor of neurobiology at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine,found that two well-known neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA, which is short for gamma-aminobutyric acid are released simultaneously by neurons in a small region of the brain called the lateral habenula to signal the emotion of disappointment.

The more glutamate is released relative to GABA, the greater the 'disappointment' signal in the brain is likely to be; and the less glutamate is released relative to GABA, the smaller the 'disappointment' signal should be.

Several current antidepressant drugs target serotonin, but the neurotransmitter is used by the brain and central nervous system for many kinds of tasks other than mood, such as for controlling sleep, memory and appetite, so the drugs don't act selectively on depression. But focusing on how to manipulate this newly discovered mechanism of competing neurotransmitters might be a promising avenue that leads to the discovery of a new generation of antidepressants, the researchers said.


Source material from Fox News

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