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Neuropeptide Y Neuropeptide Y.png
Neuropeptide Y

Neuropeptides are chemical messengers made up of small chains of amino acids that are synthesized and released by neurons. Neuropeptides typically bind to G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) to modulate neural activity and other tissues like the gut, muscles, and heart.


There are over 100 known neuropeptides, representing the largest and most diverse class of signaling molecules in the nervous system. Neuropeptides are synthesized from large precursor proteins which are cleaved and post-translationally processed then packaged into dense core vesicles. Neuropeptides are often co-released with other neuropeptides and neurotransmitters in a single neuron, yielding a multitude of effects. Once released, neuropeptides can diffuse widely to affect a broad range of targets.


Neuropeptides are synthesized from large, inactive precursor proteins called prepropeptides. [1] Prepropeptides contain sequences for a family of distinct peptides and often contain repeated copies of the same peptides, depending on the organism. [2] In addition to the precursor peptide sequences, prepropeptides also contain a signal peptide, spacer peptides, and cleavage sites. [3] The signal peptide sequence guides the protein to the secretory pathway, starting at the endoplasmic reticulum. The signal peptide sequence is removed in the endoplasmic reticulum, yielding a propeptide. The propeptide travels to the Golgi apparatus where it is proteolytically cleaved and processed into multiple peptides. Peptides are packaged into dense core vesicles, where further cleaving and processing, such as C-terminal amidation, can occur. Dense core vesicles are transported throughout the neuron and can release peptides at the synaptic cleft, cell body, and along the axon. [1] [4] [5] [6]


Neuropeptides are released by dense core vesicles after depolarization of the cell. Some evidence shows that neuropeptides are released after high-frequency firing or bursts, distinguishing dense core vesicle from synaptic vesicle release. [4] Neuropeptides utilize volume transmission and are not reuptaken quickly, allowing diffusion across broad areas (nm to mm) to reach targets. Almost all neuropeptides bind to GPCRs, inducing second messenger cascades to modulate neural activity on long time-scales. [1] [4] [5]

Expression of neuropeptides in the nervous system is diverse. Neuropeptides are often co-released with other neuropeptides and neurotransmitters, yielding a diversity of effects depending on the combination of release. [5] [7] For example, vasoactive intestinal peptide is typically co-released with acetylcholine. [8] Neuropeptide release can also be specific. In Drosophila larvae, for example, eclosion hormone is expressed in just two neurons. [6]


The first neuropeptide, Substance P, was discovered by Ulf von Euler and John Gaddum in 1931. [4] [9] In the early 1900s, chemical messengers were crudely extracted from whole animal brains and tissues and studied for their physiological effects. In an effort to isolate and study acetylcholine, von Euler and Gaddum made a crude powder extract from whole equine brain and intestine and found that it induced muscle contractions and depressed blood pressure. The effects were not abolished by atropine and thus could not solely be attributed to acetylcholine. [9] [10] Substance P was first purified and sequenced in 1971 by Michael Chang and Susan Leeman, revealing its 11 amino-acid peptide chain. [10] Similar methods were used to identify other neuropeptides in the early 1950s, such as vasopressin and oxytocin. [11] [12]

In insects, proctolin was the first neuropeptide to be isolated and sequenced. [13] [14] In 1975, Alvin Starratt and Brian Brown extracted the pentapeptide from hindgut muscles of the cockroach and found that its application enhanced muscle contractions. While Starratt and Brown initially thought of proctolin as an excitatory neurotransmitter, proctolin was later confirmed as a neuromodulatory peptide. [15]

The term “neuropeptide” was first used in the 1970s by David de Wied, who studied the effects of the peptide hormones ACTH, MSH, and vasopressin on learning and memory. [16]

Receptor targets

Most neuropeptides act on G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs). Neuropeptide-GPCRs fall into two families: rhodopsin-like and the secretin class. [17]   Most peptides activate a single GPCR, while some activate multiple GPCRs (e.g. AstA, AstC, DTK). [7] Peptide-GPCR binding relationships are highly conserved across animals. Aside from conserved structural relationships, some peptide-GPCR functions are also conserved across the animal kingdom. For example, neuropeptide F/neuropeptide Y signaling is structurally and functionally conserved between insects and mammals. [7]

Although peptides mostly target metabotropic receptors, there is some evidence that neuropeptides bind to other receptor targets. Peptide-gated ion channels (FMRFamide-gated sodium channels) have been found in snails and Hydra. [18] Other examples of non-GPCR targets include: insulin-like peptides and tyrosine-kinase receptors in Drosophila and atrial natriuretic peptide and eclosion hormone with membrane-bound guanylyl cyclase receptors in mammals and insects. [19]


Many populations of neurons have distinctive biochemical phenotypes. For example, in one subpopulation of about 3000 neurons in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus, three anorectic peptides are co-expressed: α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH), galanin-like peptide, and cocaine-and-amphetamine-regulated transcript (CART), and in another subpopulation two orexigenic peptides are co-expressed, neuropeptide Y and agouti-related peptide (AGRP). These are not the only peptides in the arcuate nucleus; β-endorphin, dynorphin, enkephalin, galanin, ghrelin, growth-hormone releasing hormone, neurotensin, neuromedin U, and somatostatin are also expressed in subpopulations of arcuate neurons. These peptides are all released centrally and act on other neurons at specific receptors. The neuropeptide Y neurons also make the classical inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA.

Invertebrates also have many neuropeptides. [20] CCAP has several functions including regulating heart rate, allatostatin and proctolin regulate food intake and growth, bursicon controls tanning of the cuticle and corazonin has a role in cuticle pigmentation and moulting.

Peptide signals play a role in information processing that is different from that of conventional neurotransmitters, and many appear to be particularly associated with specific behaviours. For example, oxytocin and vasopressin have striking and specific effects on social behaviours, including maternal behaviour and pair bonding. The following is a list of neuroactive peptides coexisting with other neurotransmitters. Transmitter names are shown in bold.

Norepinephrine (noradrenaline). In neurons of the A2 cell group in the nucleus of the solitary tract), norepinephrine co-exists with:




Epinephrine (adrenaline)

Serotonin (5-HT)

Some neurons make several different peptides. For instance, Vasopressin co-exists with dynorphin and galanin in magnocellular neurons of the supraoptic nucleus and paraventricular nucleus, and with CRF (in parvocellular neurons of the paraventricular nucleus)

Oxytocin in the supraoptic nucleus co-exists with enkephalin, dynorphin, cocaine-and amphetamine regulated transcript (CART) and cholecystokinin.

Related Research Articles

Neurotransmitter Chemical substance that enables neurotransmission

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit a signal from a neuron across the synapse to a target cell, which may be another neuron, a muscle cell, or a gland cell. Neurotransmitters are chemical substances made by the neuron specifically to transmit a message.

Hypothalamus Area of the brain below the thalamus

The hypothalamus is a portion of the brain that contains a number of small nuclei with a variety of functions. One of the most important functions of the hypothalamus is to link the nervous system to the endocrine system via the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus is located below the thalamus and is part of the limbic system. In the terminology of neuroanatomy, it forms the ventral part of the diencephalon. All vertebrate brains contain a hypothalamus. In humans, it is the size of an almond.


Pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) is a precursor polypeptide with 241 amino acid residues. POMC is synthesized in corticotrophs of the anterior pituitary from the 267-amino-acid-long polypeptide precursor pre-pro-opiomelanocortin (pre-POMC), by the removal of a 26-amino-acid-long signal peptide sequence during translation. POMC is part of the central melanocortin system.

Vasopressin Mammalian hormone released from the pituitary gland

Vasopressin, also called antidiuretic hormone (ADH), arginine vasopressin (AVP) or argipressin, is a hormone synthesized from the AVP gene as a peptide prohormone in neurons in the hypothalamus, and is converted to AVP. It then travels down the axon of that cell, which terminates in the posterior pituitary, and is released from vesicles into the circulation in response to extracellular fluid hypertonicity (hyperosmolality). AVP has two primary functions. First, it increases the amount of solute-free water reabsorbed back into the circulation from the filtrate in the kidney tubules of the nephrons. Second, AVP constricts arterioles, which increases peripheral vascular resistance and raises arterial blood pressure.

Oxytocin Peptide hormone and neuropeptide

Oxytocin is a peptide hormone and neuropeptide normally produced in the hypothalamus and released by the posterior pituitary. It plays a role in social bonding, reproduction, childbirth, and the period after childbirth. Oxytocin is released into the bloodstream as a hormone in response to sexual activity and during labour. It is also available in pharmaceutical form. In either form, oxytocin stimulates uterine contractions to speed up the process of childbirth. In its natural form, it also plays a role in bonding with the baby and milk production. Production and secretion of oxytocin is controlled by a positive feedback mechanism, where its initial release stimulates production and release of further oxytocin. For example, when oxytocin is released during a contraction of the uterus at the start of childbirth, this stimulates production and release of more oxytocin and an increase in the intensity and frequency of contractions. This process compounds in intensity and frequency and continues until the triggering activity ceases. A similar process takes place during lactation and during sexual activity.

Peptide hormones or protein hormones are hormones whose molecules are peptides or proteins, respectively. The latter have longer amino acid chain lengths than the former. These hormones have an effect on the endocrine system of animals, including humans. Most hormones can be classified as either amino acid–based hormones or steroid hormones. The former are water-soluble and act on the surface of target cells via second messengers; the latter, being lipid-soluble, move through the plasma membranes of target cells to act within their nuclei.

Index of biochemistry articles Wikipedia index

Biochemistry is the study of the chemical processes in living organisms. It deals with the structure and function of cellular components such as proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids and other biomolecules.

Allatostatins are neuropeptide hormones in insects and crustacea. They have a twofold function: they both inhibit the generation of juvenile hormone and reduce their food intake. They are therefore putative targets for insecticide research.

Supraoptic nucleus

The supraoptic nucleus (SON) is a nucleus of magnocellular neurosecretory cells in the hypothalamus of the mammalian brain. The nucleus is situated at the base of the brain, adjacent to the optic chiasm. In humans, the SON contains about 3,000 neurons.

Paraventricular nucleus of hypothalamus

The paraventricular nucleus is a nucleus in the hypothalamus. Anatomically, it is adjacent to the third ventricle and many of its neurons project to the posterior pituitary. These projecting neurons secrete oxytocin and a smaller amount of vasopressin, otherwise the nucleus also secretes corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH). CRH and TRH are secreted into the hypophyseal portal system and act on different targets neurons in the anterior pituitary. PVN is thought to mediate many diverse functions through these different hormones, including osmoregulation, appetite, and the response of the body to stress.

Magnocellular neurosecretory cells are large neuroendocrine cells within the supraoptic nucleus and paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus. They are also found in smaller numbers in accessory cell groups between these two nuclei, the largest one being the nucleus circularis. There are two types of magnocellular neurosecretory cells, oxytocin-producing cells and vasopressin-producing cells, but a small number can produce both hormones. These cells are neuroendocrine neurons, are electrically excitable, and generate action potentials in response to afferent stimulation. Vasopressin is produced from the vasopressin-producing cells via the AVP gene, a molecular output of circadian pathways.

Arcuate nucleus

The arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus is an aggregation of neurons in the mediobasal hypothalamus, adjacent to the third ventricle and the median eminence. The arcuate nucleus includes several important and diverse populations of neurons that help mediate different neuroendocrine and physiological functions, including neuroendocrine neurons, centrally projecting neurons, and astrocytes. The populations of neurons found in the arcuate nucleus are based on the hormones they secrete or interact with and are responsible for hypothalamic function, such as regulating hormones released from the pituitary gland or secreting their own hormones. Neurons in this region are also responsible for integrating information and providing inputs to other nuclei in the hypothalamus or inputs to areas outside this region of the brain. These neurons, generated from the ventral part of the periventricular epithelium during embryonic development, locate dorsally in the hypothalamus, becoming part of the ventromedial hypothalamic region. The function of the arcuate nucleus relies on its diversity of neurons, but its central role is involved in homeostasis. The arcuate nucleus provides many physiological roles involved in feeding, metabolism, fertility, and cardiovascular regulation.


An enkephalin is a pentapeptide involved in regulating nociception in the body. The enkephalins are termed endogenous ligands, as they are internally derived and bind to the body's opioid receptors. Discovered in 1975, two forms of enkephalin have been found, one containing leucine ("leu"), and the other containing methionine ("met"). Both are products of the proenkephalin gene.

<i>beta</i>-Endorphin Peptide hormone in Homo sapiens

Beta-Endorphin or β-Endorphin is an endogenous opioid neuropeptide and peptide hormone that is produced in certain neurons within the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system. It is one of three endorphins that are produced in humans, the others of which include α-endorphin and γ-endorphin.

Neuroendocrinology is the branch of biology which studies the interaction between the nervous system and the endocrine system; i.e. how the brain regulates the hormonal activity in the body. The nervous and endocrine systems often act together in a process called neuroendocrine integration, to regulate the physiological processes of the human body. Neuroendocrinology arose from the recognition that the brain, especially the hypothalamus, controls secretion of pituitary gland hormones, and has subsequently expanded to investigate numerous interconnections of the endocrine and nervous systems.

Neuromodulation is the physiological process by which a given neuron uses one or more chemicals to regulate diverse populations of neurons. Neuromodulators typically bind to metabotropic, G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) to initiate a second messenger signaling cascade that induces a broad, long-lasting signal. This modulation can last for hundreds of milliseconds to several minutes. Some of the effects of neuromodulators include: alter intrinsic firing activity, increase or decrease voltage-dependent currents, alter synaptic efficacy, increase bursting activity and reconfiguration of synaptic connectivity.

Neurotensin Chemical compound

Neurotensin is a 13 amino acid neuropeptide that is implicated in the regulation of luteinizing hormone and prolactin release and has significant interaction with the dopaminergic system. Neurotensin was first isolated from extracts of bovine hypothalamus based on its ability to cause a visible vasodilation in the exposed cutaneous regions of anesthetized rats.


Galanin is a neuropeptide encoded by the GAL gene, that is widely expressed in the brain, spinal cord, and gut of humans as well as other mammals. Galanin signaling occurs through three G protein-coupled receptors.

Galanin-like peptide (GALP) is a neuropeptide present in humans and other mammals. It is a 60-amino acid polypeptide produced in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus and the posterior pituitary gland. It is involved in the regulation of appetite and may also have other roles such as in inflammation, sex behavior, and stress.

AVP gene

Arginine Vasopressin (AVP) Gene is a gene whose product is proteolytically cleaved to produce vasopressin, neurophysin II, and a glycoprotein called copeptin. AVP and other AVP-like peptides are found in mammals, as well as mollusks, arthropods, nematodes, and other invertebrate species. In humans, AVP is present on chromosome 20 and plays a role in homeostatic regulation. The products of AVP have many functions that include vasoconstriction, regulating the balance of water in the body, and regulating responses to stress. Expression of AVP is regulated by the Transcription Translation Feedback Loop (TTFL), which is an important part of the circadian system that controls the expression of clock genes. AVP has important implications in the medical field as its products have significant roles throughout body.


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