|MadSci Network: Neuroscience|
Hi Marie A GREAT question! But obviously something I can't do justice to in a few paragraphs. I'm not sure what level you are in school, so I don't want to give you an answer that is too complex. As such, I apologize if this answer is a bit on the basic side. Since you've mentioned nitrogen, I can guess that you've had some basic chemistry and biology. If you go on and take a course in Organic Chemistry, you'll learn that many of the biochemicals in living organisms have some consistencies -- namely, that many contain carbon and nitrogen (oxygen is also something you find a lot; and of course hydrogen -- but it's everywhere!). First off, you need to understand that we have some basic processes that go on in our body. The way our neurons (brain cells) communicate with each other is by one releasing a neurotransmitter that floats to the next neuron and attaches to a receptor. This is how one neuron tells the next neuron what to do (perhaps in response to some painful stimulus, or perhaps attempting to move your fingers so that you can type a question on your computer). The transmitter attaches to the receptor sort of like a key fits into a lock. Now, drugs are often substances that we don't normally have in our body (like heroin, cocaine, or THC-the active ingredient in marijuana). However, they resemble things that we *do* have in our body (neurotransmitters). In this way, they sort of 'highjack' the neuron pretending they are a regular transmitter. Our bodies naturally have substances called endorphins which are released when we are in pain. They are the natural painkillers that we can produce. Now it just so happens that the chemical structure of morphine is *very* similar to the endorphins ("endogenous morphine"). Pharmacologists and neuroscientists obviously knew that morphine (the key) was an effective pain killer -- but we didn't know where or how it worked. But in the 1970s, Candace Pert and Sol Snyder isolated the first opioid receptors in the brain (the lock). If there is anything we have learned about the body it is that if we have something, it usually is for a specific reason....so after Pert and Snyder discovered the opioid receptor, the search was on to find what we had in our bodies that would bind to the opioid receptor -- and that is how we discovered the endorphins and enkephalins. Another good source for this type of information is an introductory college text on biopsychology (Rosenzweig, Leiman and Breedlove's Biolgical Psychology is one of my favorite books). More info on drugs can be found in any one of the MANY books on drug abuse and human behavior (Maisto, Galizio and Connors' Drug Use and Abuse is a good yet affordable text). I hope this helps get you started. Feel free to give me an email if you'd like more info. Cheers, Joshua S. Rodefer, Ph.D. Harvard Medical School email@example.com Here are some web links you might like to explore: American Psychological Association (APA) Division on Psychopharmacology http://www.apa.org:80/divisions/div28/index.html College on the Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD) http://views.vcu.edu/cpdd/index.html National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) http://www.nida.nih.gov/NIDAHome1.html Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute http://www.pni.org/psychopharmacology/ Dr. Bob's Psychopharmacology Tips http://uhs.bsd.uchicago.edu/~bhsiung/tips/
Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Neuroscience.