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Dr Mike Ludwig
senior neuroendocrinology lecturer at the Centre for Integrative Physiology at the University of Edinburgh

How do we think, learn, remember or fall in love? Is it just all biological chemistry? For me, these always have been burning questions. At school, you learn that the brain is the control centre of thought, emotions and body activity of all creatures, and that an orchestra of signals within and from the brain makes us not only what but who we are. But the working of the brain is still mostly a ‘black box’ for us – a system whose externally visible behaviour is recognisable, but whose implementation and inner workings are poorly understood.

Driven by curiosity, I went to the University of Leipzig and studied neurobiology. Since then, I have spent my life studying nerve cells, and how they release chemical signals – especially peptides – for information transfer between neuronal networks.

It is important to understand the fine details of peptide release within the brain. Oxytocin, for example, acts in the brain to arouse sexual, friendly and motherly feelings. Another peptide, vasopressin, acts in the brain to increase aggressiveness and feelings of being stressed. There are over 100 different peptides released by nerve cells, and probably all of them have specific effects on our emotions and behaviours. Thus understanding the mechanisms and function of peptide release is an essential part of understanding how the brain works, and may shine some light into the black box.

Mike Ludwig is editor of Dendritic Neurotransmitter Release (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).