Glycine (neurotransmitter): what it is and how it acts on the body
Neurotransmitters are a collection of chemicals that the neurons in our brain and the rest of our nervous system use to communicate with each other.
However, not all neurotransmitters have the same effect on our organism or on the cells and organs that make it up. For example, the neurotransmitter known as glycine has specific effects on some specific receptors, while other substances, such as dopamine or serotonin, affect other regions and produce other psychophysiological repercussions.
In this particular article we will see what glycine is and what are the particularities of this neurotransmitter and amino acid .
What is glycine?
As much as the human brain is the set of organs from which the capacity to think rationally arises, the truth is that its functioning is not at all rational. For example, neurons, which are perhaps the most important type of cells in this part of the body, function thanks to neurotransmitters, chemical particles that usually circulate throughout the body in a rather uncontrolled way.
In all this chaos of neurotransmitters, our organism is able to minimize the effects of unpredictability and take advantage of the existence of cells that react when a certain amount of a type of neurotransmitter reaches them, regardless of whether it has been generated near or far, or whether it has always circulated through the nervous system or been outside it.
Glycine, for example, is a neurotransmitter thanks to which neurons can communicate with each other , but it is also an amino acid from which proteins are created. Without changing its shape or properties, this element can be used both to help create and regenerate tissues or cell components and to act as a bridge for chemical communication between nerve cells.
As an amino acid
As an amino acid, glycine is the smallest amino acid found in the entire human body.
Its structure is very simple, and in fact it can be synthesized by the organism itself, something that does not happen with essential amino acids. It is not necessary to ingest doses of glycine by incorporating into our diet foods that contain them.
As a neurotransmitter
Glycine is released into the bloodstream and begins to circulate through this medium until it crosses the blood-brain barrier and enters the central nervous system . It is in this space that it performs its task as a neurotransmitter.
Once within the context of the nervous system, glycine circulates until it is inserted into certain receptors. This combination causes the glycine to act as a key that triggers certain biological processes. But… what exactly is the mechanism of action of this substance?
The mechanism of action
Glycine has a specific class of receptor that only responds to the presence of this substance. This is the GLyR type receptor. Once this receptor is engaged, several valves of the neuron in which the receptor is located begin to work so that chloride ions enter the interior of this nerve cell .
This generates a chain response that, depending on the circumstances in which the neuron is located, causes a stage of depolarization to occur or not, which causes an electrical impulse to travel through the entire cell until its effects reach other synaptic clefts (the spaces in which neurons communicate with each other).
The functions of glycine
With regard to the different processes that glycine carries out on the neurons, the main ones are the following.
1. Regulation of motor behavior
Glycine, together with other neurotransmitters, intervenes in the regulation of movements by making sure that muscle tone is maintained and that muscle groups can be coordinated to perform coherent actions.
2. Regenerates tissues
Glycine is found throughout the body, contributing to the development and regeneration of cellular tissues thanks to its action as an amino acid .
3. Has inhibitory effects on the brain
Like other neurotransmitters such as GABA, glycine acts in certain areas of the brain, helping us to enter a state of relative calm, i.e., absence of stress.Thanks to this effect, glycine makes it relatively difficult to enter a state of nervous hyperactivation .
However, this does not mean that glycine makes us sleepy.
4. Contributes to the fluidity of cognition
The secretion of glycine is believed to help cognitive functions to develop more effectively . For example, remembering or making decisions becomes more spontaneous and easier to perform, perhaps in part because the absence of excessive stress makes planning to guide these functions easier.