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Neurochemistry

Neurochemistry

Neurochemistry is the study of the chemicals and neurotransmitters that make up the nervous system(1). Neurochemistry is a specialized field within the broader spectrum of neuroscience. Merriam-Webster defines neuroscience as “a branch (such as neurophysiology) of the life sciences that deals with the anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, or molecular biology   of nerves and nervous tissue and especially with their relation to behavior and learning (2).” Neurochemistry as a field of study is mainly research based; neurochemists tend not to do clinical work the way a neuropsychologist would. Though it isn’t a well-recognized field, neurochemists research the chemical makeup of the nervous system, but tend to also study other parts of neuroscience including neuropharmacology and neuroimmunology.

Neurochemistry is a recent emergence in the field of neuroscience. It used to be under the neurobiology umbrella. The first chapter of Basic Neurochemistry 8th Edition offers a brief history of the field of neurochemistry saying, “As our knowledge of neuroanatomy and histology deepened, scientists began to appreciate the specialized biochemistry of the brain and neurochemistry emerged as a distinct field of investigation (3).” It still isn’t widely known and most neurochemists tend to classify themselves as neuroscientists instead. There also isn’t a lot of specific neurochemist degree programs out there, instead, someone going into the field would most likely get a degree in neuroscience.

In order to work as a neurochemist, a PhD is required. There are a couple different routes to take as far as what degrees one would get. The best way to start is with a bachelor’s degree in either biology, chemistry, or neuroscience. From there, a master’s degree in neuroscience and then a PhD in neuroscience would be the best course of action. Some schools may offer specific neurochemistry programs, but as mentioned above, it’s not a wide field so other schools may offer just a couple classes on neurochemistry. For undergraduate programs, some schools offer the ability to major in chemistry or biology with an emphasis in neuroscience. This is a good way to learn about neuroscience before starting a graduate program. Chemistry and biology play a huge role in neuroscience, so no matter what degree you get, chemistry and biology courses will be required.

After getting a degree, the next step would be starting a career in neurochemistry. A career as a neurochemist focuses primarily on research. This is either done at a university lab or for the federal government. The job is relatively the same for both; however, working at a university may have some teaching requirements as well  as  some  grant  writing.  The lab environment is going to primarily focus on developing research for things such as different instruments to use, drugs to use for treatments, and analyzing tissue samples (4).  One of the main research aspects of neurochemistry is research into the neurochemistry of the brain, especially when it comes to mental illness. There has been emerging research on the neurochemistry of diseases like schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, dementia, epilepsy, and bipolar disorder to name a few. The focus of the research is to analyze how a brain addled with mental illness differs from a normal brain on the neurochemical level. From there, neuropharmacology comes into play by developing drugs to counteract the chemical imbalances in the brain of those patients. This research is vital because, according to Mental Health America, currently in 2019, over 44 million American adults suffer from a mental health condition (5).

Because neurochemistry is such a specific field, neurochemists also tend to bleed over into neuropharmacology and neuroimmunology. The definitions for both fields are, “a branch of medical science dealing with the action of drugs on and in the nervous system (6)” and “a branch  of immunology that deals especially with the interrelationships of the nervous system and immune responses and autoimmune disorders (as multiple sclerosis) (7)”, respectively. Both fields relate to neurochemistry because they focus on developing drugs for neurological disorders and the relationship between the nervous system and immune system.

Neuroscience is such an important field because of the prevalence of mental health disorders in the US today. Neurochemistry is a useful field underneath the neuroscience umbrella because of its focus on the neurochemicals and neurotransmitters that make up the brain and how imbalances of these chemicals are a factor in these mental disorders. Hank Green said in his Crash Course Psychology series, “The mind is what the brain does (8).” It is so important to be able to understand how the mind works because that in turn, drives our actions and our lives. While a career in neurochemistry requires a lot of hard work, it is immensely rewarding to be able to make a difference in understanding the brain a little bit more.

References

1 Neurochemistry. https://www.nature.com/subjects/neurochemistry (accessed Feb 24, 2019).

2 Neuroscience. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/neuroscience (accessed Feb 24,2019).

3 Brady, S.; Siegel, G.; Albers, R. W.; Price, D. Basic Neurochemistry: Principles of Molecular, Cellular, and Medical Neurobiology, 8th ed.; Academic Press, 2011.

4 Becoming a Neuroscientist: Job Description & Salary Info. http://learningpath.org/articles/Becoming_a_Neuroscientist_Job_Description_Salary_Info.html (accessed Feb 24, 2019).

5 The State of Mental Health in America. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/state- mental-health-america (accessed Feb 24, 2019).

6 Neuropharmacology. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/neuropharmacology (accessed Feb 24, 2019).

7 Neuroimmunology Medical Definition. https://www.merriam- webster.com/medical/neuroimmunology (accessed Feb 24, 2019).

8 CrashCourse. Meet Your Master: Getting to Know Your Brain – Crash Course Psychology #4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHrmiy4W9C0&index=5&list=PL8dPuuaLjXtOPRKzVLY 0jJY-uHOH9KVU6 (accessed Feb 24, 2019).

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