The neuropeptides are composed of two or more amino acids linked together by peptide bonds. Some 85 neuropeptides have been found, but their physiological roles are often unknown. It seems that evolution has selected the same chemical messengers for use in widely differing circumstances, and many of the neuropeptides had been previously identified in nonneural tissue where they function as hormones or paracrine agents. They generally retain the name they were given when first discovered in the nonneural tissue.

The neuropeptides are formed differently from other neurotransmitters, which are synthesized in the axon terminals by very few enzyme-mediated steps. The neuropeptides, in contrast, are derived from large precursor proteins, which in themselves have little, if any, inherent biological activity. The synthesis of these precursors is directed by mRNA and occurs on ribo-somes, which exist only in the cell body and large den-drites of the neuron, often a considerable distance from axon terminals or varicosities where the peptides are released.

In the cell body, the precursor protein is packaged into vesicles, which are then moved by axon transport into the terminals or varicosities where the vesicle contents are cleaved by specific peptidases. Many of the precursor proteins contain multiple peptides, which may be different or copies of one peptide. Neurons that release one or more of the peptide neurotransmitters are collectively called peptidergic. In many cases, neu-ropeptides are cosecreted with another type of neuro-transmitter and act as neuromodulators.

Certain neuropeptides, termed endogenous opioids—beta-endorphin, the dynorphins, and the enkephalins—have attracted much interest because their receptors are the sites of action of opiate drugs such as morphine and codeine. The opiate drugs are powerful analgesics (that is, they relieve pain without loss of consciousness), and the endogenous opioids undoubtedly play a role in regulating pain. The opioids have been implicated in the runner's "second wind," when the athlete feels a boost of energy and a decrease in pain and effort, and in the general feeling of well-being experienced after a bout of strenuous exercise, the so-called jogger's high. There is also evidence that the opioids play a role in eating and drinking behavior, in regulation of the cardiovascular system, and in mood and emotion.

Substance P, another of the neuropeptides, is a transmitter released by afferent neurons that relay sensory information into the central nervous system.

PART TWO Biological Control Systems

Vander et al.: Human Physiology: The Mechanism of Body Function, Eighth Edition

PART TWO Biological Control Systems

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    What are the neuropeptides in the human body?
    27 days ago

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