E4 Neurotransmitters & Synapses

Review Nerves content from the Core before completing this topic.

Essential Biology E4: Neurotransmitters and Synapses


Reward Pathways

The New Science of Addiction: Genetics and The Brain

From Learn.Genetics

Fantastic resources available from Utah, including the mouse party, neuron and synapse animations and an interactive involving pedigree charts and the role of genetics in addiction.

Spend some time here to really read around the subject of drugs and addiction – you’ll be glad you did and it really helps answer the ‘discuss the causes of addiction’ question!

Drunken Monkeys! What do alcoholic vervet monkeys have in common with us and the genetic basis for addiction? Read this blog post at punctuated equilibrium, which accompanies this video. Thanks DaveF for the link.


Drugs and The Brain


Jellinek is a Dutch drugs education website that has some great, accessible resources for neurobiology of drugs and the brain. Animations are available in multiple languages.


Neurotransmitters and Drugs:

Good powerpoint from HHMI

Video: The two faces of dopamine (addiction and Parkinsons), from the Guardian

Excellent overview of effects of drugs (Harvard)

Inhibitory and excitatory drugs:


TOK and Biology: The Nutt-Sack Affair

Leader of advisory panel on drug safety sacked for disagreeing with UK government:


Read around the topic, and then answer these questions:

Nutt’s Scale of Drugs

  1. How does this story show the conflict between science and politics?
  2. What do you feel the respective roles of science and politics should be in the government of a country?
  3. Suggest reasons why some drugs which are clearly very harmful, such as tobacco and alcohol, are still legal in many countries.
  4. If you were to form a new country and write a whole new set of drug laws, which would you make illegal or legal and why? Upon which sources of evidence would you rely in order to make your decisions? How would you balance political pressures with scientific evidence?

Find out more about drug laws and the rationale behind them in your own country and the countries you visit or live in.

Remember – regardless of your own opinion on drug laws, if you are caught breaking the law wherever you are, penalties can be very severe.

Here is an interesting half-hour: Russell Brand speaks to a UK Parliamentary Committee on Addiction.  What are some of the ideas he proposes? What evidence would you need to see to support those ideas?

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