Study of Drug


Neuropharmacology is the study of how drugs affect cellular function in the nervous system, and the neural mechanisms through which they influence behavior. There are two main branches of neuropharmacology: behavioral and molecular. Behavioral neuropharmacology focuses on the study of how drugs affect human behavior (neuropsychopharmacology), including the study of how drug dependence and addiction affect the human brain.

Neuropharmacology did not appear in the scientific field until, in the early part of the 20th century, scientists were able to figure out a basic understanding of the nervous system and how nerves communicate between one another. Before this discovery, there were drugs that had been found that demonstrated some type of influence on the nervous system. In the 1930s, French scientists began working with a compound called phenothiazine in the hope of synthesizing a drug that would be able to combat malaria.

In the 1950s, scientists also became better able to measure levels of specific neurochemicals in the body and thus correlate these levels with behavior. The invention of the voltage clamp in 1949 allowed for the study of ion channels and the nerve action potential. These two major historical events in neuropharmacology allowed scientists not only to study how information is transferred from one neuron to another but also to study how a neuron processes this information within itself. Neuropharmacology is a very broad region of science that encompasses many aspects of the nervous system from single neuron manipulation to entire areas of the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. To better understand the basis behind drug development, one must first understand how neurons communicate with one another.

Various divisions of the nervous system include the central nervous system, comprising the brain and the spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system, which includes somatic, sympathetic, and parasympathetic nerves and ganglia. Neurotransmitters act at the synapses, or neural junctions, to activate or deactivate nerve impulse transmission, or to activate effector processes at neural-effector cell junctions. Drugs which can act at these sites may block the actions of various naturally occurring chemicals or modify effector organ responses. This may be in the form of skeletal muscle or cardiac muscle excitation or inhibition, increase or decrease in cardiac output, alterations of vascular tone, and functional modifications of respiratory, gastric, and central nervous systems to regulate appetite, temperature, and mood abnormalities, among others. Most of these drugs act at the synapses, which allows for selective nerve action by acting on only one or a few nerve receptors.

Research in the field of neuropharmacology concentrates on the development of new drugs that can correct chemical imbalances within the nervous system, as well as assesses their level of safety and potency for clinical use. Studies regarding the effects of such drugs on different neurologic functions, including behavior, memory, emotions, and cognition, are also included in this field.

Managing Editor
Pharmacy Practice and Education.