Research on how serotonin works is being conducted by Scripps Research Institute scientists. The work could affect the development of new therapies for a number of disorders, including schizophrenia and depression.
Serotonin affects the control of perception, cognition, sleep, appetite, pain, and mood and mediates these effects through interactions with receptors located throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems.
The team has shown for the first time that the neurotransmitter serotonin uses a specialized signalling pathway to mediate biological functions that are distinct from the signalling pathways used by hallucinogenic substances.
"Future drug discovery efforts to identify lead compounds for treatment of depression may consider focusing upon those that only engage that pathway. This work may also lend insight into the mechanisms that underlie the hallucinations that occur in schizophrenia," said Laura Bohn.
Traditional therapies focus on elevating serotonin levels, and can sometimes produce serious side effects such as a serotonin syndrome - often accompanied by hallucinations.
The scientists' current study supports a long-standing hypothesis that hallucinations may arise from the metabolites formed from elevated serotonin levels.
The study was published in the October 6, 2010 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.