Donald Glassey, M.S.W., D.C., L.M.T.
The title for this article is a take-off on Dr. Candace Pert’s groundbreaking book on neuropeptides entitled Molecules of Emotion. (Dr. Pert’s book is a must read for anyone working with the human body.)
In the early 1970s, neuroscientist and psychopharmacologist Candace Pert, Ph.D. discovered the “neuropeptide” opiate receptor site on cells, which was to become one of many important advances in the scientific understanding of the mind-body connection.
In his ground breaking first book, Deepak Chopra, made the following compelling statement; “The discovery of neuropeptides was so significant because it showed that the body is fluid enough to match the mind. Thanks to messenger molecules (neuropeptides), events that seem totally unconnected- such as a thought and a bodily reaction- are now seen to be consistent. The neuro-peptide isn’t a thought but it moves with thought, serving as a point of transformation. . . A neuropeptide springs into existence at the touch of a thought, but where does it spring from? (For example) A thought of fear and the neuro-chemical that is turns into are somehow connected in a hidden process, a transformation of non-matter into matter.” 1
Neuropeptides (nerve proteins) are biochemicals that regulate almost all life processes on a cellular level, and thereby link all body systems. (Pert 1997) In her abovementioned book Dr. Pert uses the analogy that cells (the basic functional unit of life) are the engines that drive the human body. And, that a specific peptide is the finger that sparks the engine and gets it started. (Pert 1997)
Neuropeptides are produced primarily in the brain, although almost every tissue in the body produces and exchanges neuropeptides. (Pert 1997) Scientists, like Dr. Pert, have discovered over two hundred different neuropeptides, the first of which were hormones because they are larger molecules. (Pert 2006) Neuropeptides are one of three types of the most powerful biochemicals in the body, categorized as ligands from the Latin “ligare”, that which binds. Neurotransmitters and steroids (sex hormones) are the other types of ligands; however, neuropeptides constitute ninety-five percent of all ligands (Pert 1997).
Neuropeptides circulate throughout the body in the blood, extracellular fluid and spaces, and cerebrospinal fluid. (Pert 1997) It is interesting to note that if the formed elements are removed from these body fluids; blood plasma, lymph and “CSF” are all a similar chemical composition- the same as sea water. (Upledger 1998) Neuropeptides are called messenger molecules because they send chemical messages from the brain to receptor sites on cell membranes throughout the body. The average cell has thousands of receptor sites for neuropeptides, which are constantly opening and closing, and brain cells have millions! (Pert 1997) It is like a “lock and key” mechanism where the neuropeptide is the “key” that opens the “lock” on the cell membrane to cause complex and fundamental changes in the cells they lock onto. However, Dr. Pert feels the standard scientific “key fitting into a lock” analogy is too static an image for this dynamic process. She uses the description of two voices, peptide and receptor site, hitting the same note, and resulting in a resonance that rings the doorbell of the cell to open it. (Pert 1997)
An example of this mechanism is angiotensin, a neuropeptide that responds to thirst. Angiotensin is formed from renin, an enzyme, which is released from the glomerular cells in the kidneys into the blood, and affects the following receptor sites: the lungs decrease the amount of water which is exhaled, the kidneys decrease urine production, and the brain (hypothalamus area which regulates water balance) “feels thirsty”, and causes the person to drink water. (Guyton 2000)
All systems of the body exchange neuropeptide information, and it is the internal feeling state (emotions) that elicits the neuropeptide response. This is the mind-body connection in which every change in the mental-emotional state causes a change in the body physiology. Likewise, every change in the body physiology causes a change in the mental-emotional state. (Pert 1997)
Neuropeptides, above and beyond their specific physiologic responses in cells and tissues, are generally emotion specific. In fact, the structures of the limbic system (the seat of the emotions in the brain), including the thalamus, hypothalamus, hippocampus, amygdala, and parts of the basal ganglia, are concentration areas for neuropeptides called “nodal points”. (Pert 1997) For example, the neuropeptide serotonin, a neurotransmitter is responsible for our mood and feelings of well being, is produced in one area of the brain (the cerebrum) and is projected into another area (the hypothalamus) which is part of the limbic system. (Guyton 2000) Thus, the emotions we feel may facilitate the biochemical process that occurs between neuropeptides and receptor sites on cell membranes. (Pert 1999)
Vitalistically speaking, healing involves a closer connection between mind, body, and emotions, and it is proposed that neuropeptides are the molecular language that allows them to communicate. In her aforementioned book, Dr. Pert uses an analogy and describes neuropeptides as the sheet music containing notes that allows that body to orchestrate the physiological and emotional processes. (Pert 1997)
The fact that neuropeptides are produced in the brain supports the physiological connection of emotions (feelings) and muscular motor patterns. It is theorized that neuropeptides are “fluid” born chemicals circulating in the “CSF”, blood and extracellular fluid whose “emotional” chemistry links muscular “behavior” patterns and completes the mind-body connection.
Finally, the importance of these “messenger molecules” is further emphasized by the fact that the following crucial areas of the body are also “nodal points” for neuropeptides. The dorsal horn of the spinal cord, which is the first synapse within the nervous system where all somatosensory (bodily sensations and feelings) information is processed. Also practically all locations where information from any of the five senses of sound, sight, smell, taste and touch enter the nervous system are high concentration areas for neuropeptides. Additionally, the gonads, which are essential for reproduction of the species, are “hot spots” for neuropeptides as well as many other essential areas of the body. (Pert 1997)
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Dr. Don Glassey, M.S.W., D.C., L.M.T.