Serotonin, more than just the happy hormone

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Serotonin – often dubbed the happy hormone for its ability to regulate moods – plays a vital and perhaps lesser known role in everything from blood clots to bone density.

Yet despite its significance in the human body, researchers do not fully understand how serotonin is released into the bloodstream.

As such, Flinders University Associate Professor Damien Keating will soon begin a three-year Australian Research Council-funded study to explore the way in which a group of endocrine cells carry the hormone into the blood stream.

“Serotonin is often associated with the brain and regulating mood but 90 per cent of the body’s serotonin is actually made outside of the brain, in specialised endocrine cells that line the gut wall,” Associate Professor Keating said.

“These cells produce a whole range of hormones that get released from our gut into the bloodstream but not much is known about how the cells function,” he said.

“Our lab has now developed a technique to study serotonin release from individual cells, thereby enabling us to form a better understanding of how these cells work and the mechanisms that control the release of serotonin into the blood.”

By identifying how serotonin is released from the gut, Associate Professor Keating said researchers would be able to develop therapies targeting health problems associated with the hormone.

“Serotonin clots our blood when we hurt ourselves, it regulates blood glucose which is directly linked to diabetes, it affects bone density which is relevant in osteoporosis and it’s also significant in embryo development, which is important for mothers and babies.

“Because serotonin plays such an important role in the body, once we understand how it makes its way into the bloodstream we may be able to develop therapies to target the function of the cells and how much serotonin they release.

“For example, too much serotonin decreases bone density so if we know how the cells release it then we could potentially create a therapy to limit the amount of serotonin in the bloodstream.

“Drug trials are already happening in this area but it’s important we do the fundamental research first.”

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