glutamate

…will likely have something to do with a fellow I studied with a while ago.  His name is Joe Moskal, and he has been a neuroscientist ever since I knew him as an undergrad at Notre Dame. Among the many areas of study to which he has applied his considerable intellect is that of the “NMDA receptor (N methyl D aspartate)”, a particular protein in and on our nerve cells that plays an in depth role in how nerve cells talk to each other. It would not be helpful to try to explain the finer dimensions of this science (as I do not understand them all that well myself). But the impact that is just around the corner could be profound.  The molecule pictured above is glutamate, the major neuroexcitatory substance in our brains, and its target is the NMDA receptor.

This relatively simple substance — put in many of our foods to make them seem to taste better — must somehow bind with a protein embedded in the membranes of nerve cells that allows for calcium, sodium, and other substances to flow in and out of these channels.  Long term “potentiation” of these channels creates learning and happiness, and the opposite occurs when they don’t work properly.  We all call that depression to use a term.  This can even cause nerve cell death if it goes on long enough with enough intensity.

I went to Notre Dame with Joe and can attest to the fact that he was one of the most imaginative student scientists I have ever known.  A chess master at age 15, he stood out immediately as an undergraduate — occasionally in ways that were, well, distinctive.  Nonetheless, the nextgen of medications beyond the ever present “serotonin reuptake inhibitors” like Prozac, Lexapro, and the like will not simply boost the levels of a brain chemical that is already there, but rather will “modulate” the way those chemicals work.  Not quite LSD, but these new drugs will seem miraculous and will work quickly.  We might be moving closer to the world that another imaginative mind taught us about somewhere off in the future.

 

 

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