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Neurotransmitters: Microscopic substances at the synapse control the balance between mind and body 4. Neurotransmitters are common to all creatures on earth

4. Neurotransmitters are common to all creatures on earth

KOBAYASHI: Even though you are working in an extremely microscopic field, namely neurotransmission mechanism in the peripheral nervous system, I wonder if your research has even given you the thrilling sensation of having gained deeper or wider insight into living creatures?

MOCHIDA: Well, let me think. Yes, it is actually a lot of fun to experiment on animals of a lower order. Take Aplysia, for example, which is of a very primitive order. When you open up its body, you see a mouth sticking out, which is connected to a digestive organ. The rest is the nervous system, which, again, consists of just simple parts such as a central nerve, a nerve activating the central nerve and a nerve activating the mouth, or gill. Very primitive. But in researching such primitive nerves, you come to an understanding of how human nerves might operate.

KOBAYASHI: From the viewpoint of evolutionary history, is there a major difference in neurotransmitters between humans and non-humans?

MOCHIDA: As far as neurotransmitters are concerned, both use more or less the same substances, from animals of lower orders up to humans. For instance, insects also use glutamate as a neurotransmitter, and so does the squid.

KOBAYASHI: Is that so! Do you mean that evolutionary development has nothing to do with it?

MOCHIDA: It doesn't seem so.

KOBAYASHI: The domain of your research encompasses a considerably wide range, doesn't it? So what is the ultimate goal of your research?

MOCHIDA: For the time being, as long as the release mechanism of neurotransmitters at the synapse remains to be elucidated completely, I wish to pursue that goal to the very end. Who knows, I may not be able to reach it, but that is a challenge I enjoy.

KOBAYASHI: Good for you! Well, thank you very much for sharing your story with me today.

MOCHIDA: It is my part to thank you.

Profile

Sumiko MOCHIDA, Ph.D.
Professor of Physiology, Tokyo Medical University.
Dr. Mochida was born in Nagano Prefecture. She earned her Bachelor's degree from the School of Pharmaceutical Science Kitasato University and her doctorate from Tokyo Medical College, followed by a postdoctoral work at the University of California, San Francisco. She was a Senior Research Fellow at the National Research Center for Science, Gif-sur-Yvette, France, prior to her current appointment. Professor Mochida received the 19th annual Saruhashi Prize in 1999, awarded to the most distinguished female scientist of year, for her groundbreaking work demonstrating that multiple proteins at the presynaptic nerve terminal function as biological sensors and switches for triggering the release of chemical neurotransmitters.

Noboru KOBAYASHI, M.D.
Born in Tokyo in 1927. Doctor of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Tokyo Pediatrician
Director, Child Research Net (CRN)
Director, Children's Rainbow Center (Japan Information and Training Center for Problems related to Child Abuse and Adolescent's Turmoil)
Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo
President Emeritus, National Children's Hospital
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