Discovering the Brain’s Messengers: Where Are Neurotransmitters Located?

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that are present in the brain and are responsible for sending signals between neurons. These neurotransmitters help to regulate various processes, including cognition, mood, and behavior. The human brain contains a vast amount of these chemical messengers, and discovering the location of these neurotransmitters within the brain has become a pivotal focal point in neuroscience.

Recent studies have shed light on the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the functioning of these neurotransmitters in both healthy and diseased brains. In this article, we’ll examine the various locations where these neurotransmitters are located and their impact on the human brain.

Synapses: The Primary Site of Neurotransmitter Action

The space between two neurons, where neurotransmitters are released by one neuron and bind to receptors on the other neuron, is called a synapse. Synapses are the primary sites where most of the neurotransmitter action in the brain occurs. Here’s how it works:

  • The action potential (a brief signal sent by a neuron) arrives at the axon terminal of one neuron, which then releases a chemical neurotransmitter into the synapse. The neurotransmitter binds to specific receptors on the dendrites of the other neuron.
  • The binding of the neurotransmitter molecules to the receptors induces changes in the membrane potential of the neuron.
  • If enough neurotransmitters bind to the receptors, the postsynaptic neuron is stimulated to send its own action potential.

Thus, the presence of neurotransmitters in the brain is essential for synaptic communication between neurons, which ultimately determines various cognitive and behavioral functions.

The Various Types and Locations of Neurotransmitters


Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates movement, motivation, and reward mechanisms in the brain.

  • Dopamine is synthesized in specific regions of the brain, including the ventral tegmental area (VTA) in the midbrain, the substantia nigra, and the hypothalamus.
  • The axon terminals of the dopaminergic neurons in these regions project to various parts of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, and striatum, where they release dopamine to exert their effects.


Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite, and sleep-wake cycles in the brain.

  • Serotonin is synthesized in the raphe nuclei located in the midline of the brain stem, primarily in the nucleus raphe dorsalis and raphe magnus.
  • The axon terminals of the serotonergic neurons project to various parts of the brain, including the amygdala, hippocampus, and cortex, where they release serotonin to perform their function.


Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that regulates muscle contraction, memory, and attention in the brain.

  • The synthesis of acetylcholine occurs in several regions of the brain, including the basal forebrain, the pontine reticular formation, and the medial septum.
  • The axon terminals of the cholinergic neurons from these regions project to multiple areas in the brain, including the hippocampus, cortex, and thalamus, where they release acetylcholine to exert their impact.


Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that regulates arousal, attention, and stress response in the brain.

  • Norepinephrine is synthesized in the locus coeruleus, located in the pons region of the brain stem.
  • The axon terminals of the noradrenergic neurons from the locus coeruleus project to several areas in the brain, including the hippocampus, cortex, and cerebellum, where they release norepinephrine.

The Role of Neurotransmitters in Various Brain Diseases

The imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain can cause various neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease is caused by the degeneration of the dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra region of the midbrain. As a result, there is a significant reduction in dopamine levels in the brain, leading to the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as tremors and stiffness.


Depression is a prevalent psychiatric disorder characterized by low mood, loss of pleasure in activities, and sleep disturbances. It is linked to low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain.

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder characterized by cognitive decline, memory loss, and increased dementia risk. The disease is linked to a loss of cholinergic neurons in the basal forebrain, which results in low levels of acetylcholine in the brain.


Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that play a significant role in the functioning of the brain. They regulate various cognitive and behavioral functions and control the communication between neurons at synapses. Understanding the locations of neurotransmitters in the brain is essential to understanding how to treat various neurological and psychiatric disorders that arise from neurotransmitter imbalances.

Common Questions About Neurotransmitters

  • Where are neurotransmitters stored? Neurotransmitters are stored in vesicles present in the axon terminals of neurons.
  • How do neurotransmitters travel across synapses? Neurotransmitters are released from the axon terminals of one neuron and bind to receptors on the dendrites of the other neuron.
  • What happens when there is an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain? Imbalances in neurotransmitters levels can lead to neurological and psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Can neurotransmitter imbalances be treated? Yes, they can be treated with medication that aims to restore the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain.


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  • Kandel, E. R., Schwartz, J. H., & Jessell, T. M. (Eds.).(2012). Principles of neural science. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.
  • Lin L, Lesage A, Earl L, et al. (2018). Where are the A’s and G’s? Challenges of extracting meaningful information from large-scale biological datasets. PLoS Biol 16(3): e2003853.

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