What is Molecular Neuroscience?

Mary McMahon

Molecular neuroscience is a scientific discipline which focuses on the study of human behavior from a molecular perspective. Researchers in this field are often cross-disciplinary, integrating molecular biology, molecular chemistry, and neuroscience into their work, with the goal of learning more about the human brain and how it works. Molecular neuroscience can also be applied to the study of animal brains and behavior, and in addition to looking at the brain, it also involves the nervous system as a whole, from the spinal cord to the nerves in the tips of the toes.

Researchers in molecular neuroscience study the brain.
Researchers in molecular neuroscience study the brain.

The building block of the nervous system, along with the rest of the body, is DNA. DNA tells the cells in the body how to code a wide variety of proteins which do everything from assembling cells to sending signals between cells. Researching the fundamental components of the nervous system in the form of the individual molecules and more complex macromolecules which together build nerve cells in the body is very important, as it allows people to understand the brain literally from the ground up.

Researchers in molecular neuroscience want to know how the nervous system works, studying topics like cell signaling, ion channels, the production of proteins and enzymes, neurotransmitters, and a variety of other topics. They use a variety of techniques in their work, ranging from medical imaging studies of living brains to see brain function in action to the development of synthetic neural networks which are used in lab experiments.

Studying molecular neuroscience allows researchers to obtain information about how a healthy brain works, establishing baselines of brain function. This information can be applied to the study of many neurological diseases and conditions, examining the progress of such conditions, possible causes, and how those conditions act on the nervous system. This information can lead to more sophisticated and precise treatment to target issues like Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), and psychiatric issues such as dementia, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

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Work in molecular neuroscience usually requires a doctoral degree, often with postgraduate work. People in this field may be medical doctors or PhDs, and sometimes both, depending on the kind of work that they do, and they work primarily in laboratory settings, rather than with individual patients in hospitals. Molecular neuroscience is most commonly applied in the realm of medical and scientific research, although some topics in molecular neuroscience may be of interest to practicing neurologists and neurosurgeons.

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