PSYCH ARTICLE

happiness peptide

Happiness Peptide Identified: Hypocretin

Scientists measure the release of neurotransmitter

What makes us happy? Family? Money? Love? How about a peptide?

Ah, the science of happiness. For the first time in humans, scientists at UCLA have measured the release of a specific peptide, a neurotransmitter called hypocretin, that greatly increased when subjects were happy but decreased when they were sad.

The importance of this scientific discovery? It's possible that boosting hypocretin could elevate both mood and alertness in humans, creating possible future treatments for depression, the leading cause of psychiatric disability in the U.S. Currently, the use of antidepressants has not been based on evidence of a deficiency, or excess, of any neurotransmitter.

Senior author Jerome Siegel, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Sleep Research at UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, says "The findings also suggest that hypocretin deficiency may underlie depression from other causes."

The researchers found that hypocretin levels were not linked to arousal in general but were maximized during positive emotions, anger, social interactions and awakening. 

Siegel also notes that hypocretin antagonists are now being developed by several drug companies for use as sleeping pills. The current work suggests that these drugs will alter mood as well sleep tendency.

Image: Some rights reserved by NASA Goddard Photo and Video

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