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Messengers of the Brain


Updated July 21, 2012

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Real Human Brain Exhibit

The behavior of neurotransmitters - the messengers of the brain - affects both mind and body.

Matt Candy / Getty Images
You're taking Prozac, and you've heard it described as an SSRI. Maybe you know that SSRI stands for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. But that's quite a mouthful - what does it mean?

Terms like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, monoamine oxidase inhibitor and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor all describe how a particular medication functions. These three are abbreviated as SSRI, MAOI and SNRI, and all are types of antidepressants.

In order to make sense of any of this, it is necessary to understand something about how impulses are transferred from one nerve to the next, since medications such as mood stabilizers, antidepressants and antipsychotics all affect this process to bring about changes.

In this article, I will give a simplified description of how the brain's message carriers (neurotransmitters) operate, and then try to clarify the process by telling the illustrated story "GABAs on the Move."

Note: Other antidepressants and types of psychiatric medications have different sorts of names that may reflect their chemical composition (for example, tricyclic antidepressants), what they're used for (anticonvulsants) or a combination of factors (typical and atypical antipsychotics, which are, respectively, older and newer drugs treating psychosis).

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