Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

There is Nothing More Embarassing to Me...

...than totally screwing up a scientific/medical explanation. Which is what I did yesterday. Me, a science writer. An expert in serotonin-related disorders. An author of a book in which such issues were discussed and dissected. And I got it wrong. Because I was stoned. Did I mention that?

Well, I'm somewhat less stoned today (though still enjoying a rather serene, floaty feeling), and when I looked at my last blog entry, I cringed. Let me correct myself here:

I did OK on my explanation of GABA--which, to be specific, is not just a chemical that inhibits neurons from firing, but is THE MOST IMPORTANT inhibitory chemical. When it works--when the neurons it targets are indeed inhibited, GABA produces such effects as muscle relaxation (oh yeah, definitely that), sleep (I'm getting there), diminished emotional reaction (yup), and sedation (well, if by sedation you mean feeling marajuana-stoned, then yeah, I guess I'm sedated).

But I pretty much screwed up the whole SSRI thing. What I said was that it's "the drug that stops you from using the extra serotonin sloshing around in your brain." Sheesh. Couldn't be more wrong, there. In reality, it's the drug that acts to KEEP the serotoning sloshing around in your brain for a longer period of time.

See, normally, serotonin is produced and accumulates in the synaptic gap--the space between one neuron and another. When the first neuron in a pair fires, the serotonin travels across the gap and attaches itself to the receptors surrounding the body of the second neuron in the pair, prompting it to then send the signal along to the next neuron in the circuit. After the serotonin has done its job, it's released from the receptors on the second/receiving neuron and is picked up by the first/sending neuron for safekeeping until that cell receives another signal that it needs to pass along.

When your brain produces serotonin at its normal, expected rates, that scenario works beautifully. But when your brain is serotonin-poor, the signal doesn't always get sent on the first try from the sender to the recipient. And if the serotonin is subsequently picked up and sequenstered, then the message will never get sent. That's where the SSRIs come in. They stop the sender cell from grabbing onto the free serotonin (i.e., they inhibit reuptake of serotonin), keeping the serotonin you have already free and able to try to send the message again and again until it is finally heard. And because serotonin is partly responsible for, among other things, maintaining a positive mood, making sure that signal gets heard is particularly important in people suffering from mood disorders like depression.

And that, my friends, is today's lesson in science--and how NOT to communicate it. Thank you very much for your time and attention.

[The chirping of crickets is heard.]

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