Neuropeptides

Neuropeptides are peptides used by neurons to communicate with each other. Neuropeptides are expressed and released by neurons, and mediate neuronal communication by acting on cell surface receptors which belong almost exclusively to the GPCR family. Neuropeptides possess a spectrum of actions, as neurohormones, neurotransmitters and growth factors, and also as key inflammatory mediators.

Neuropeptides in turn are derived from larger, inactive precursors that are generally at least 90 amino acid residues in length. One precursor can harbour more than one neuropeptide, while one neuropeptide can act on multiple receptors.

The human genome contains about 90 genes that encode precursors of neuropeptides and about 100 different peptides are known to be released by different populations of neurons in the mammalian brain. The function of peptides as first messengers is evolutionarily very old and neuropeptides are recognized as the most diverse group of messenger molecules in the brain.

Neuropeptides are involved in a wide range of brain functions, including analgesia, reward, food intake, metabolism, reproduction, social behaviours, learning and memory. They have been the successful focus of drug company efforts with many drugs acting at neuropeptide targets now in the clinic for conditions such as migraine, neuropathic pain, anxiety, sleep disorders, depression and schizophrenia.

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