How ion channels and transporters influence our mood

National Fun at Work Day is an annual celebration that encourages us to bring a little extra joy into our work lives. It reminds us that the workplace doesn’t have to be all serious and stressful; there’s room for laughter and enjoyment.

Our mood and mental health play a significant role in our productivity and overall well-being at work. When we’re feeling positive and upbeat, we tend to be more focused, creative, and efficient. Conversely, a gloomy mood can lead to decreased productivity and a less enjoyable workday.

But what’s happening inside our brains that influences these shifts in mood? It turns out that ion channels and transporters are key players in regulating neurotransmitters that affect our emotions.

Take dopamine and serotonin, for example. These two well-known “feel-good” neurotransmitters rely on voltage-gated calcium channels for their release and on specific transporters (SLC6A3 for dopamine and SLC6A4 for serotonin) for their reuptake. One recent study also found that Kv4.3 and BKCa1.1 channels are integral to dopamine release from neurons, while Nav1.3 and Piezo2 have been associated with serotonin release from enterochromaffin cells. Yes, enterochromaffin cells of the gastrointestinal tract. While most of us are aware of serotonin’s role in the brain, more than 90% of serotonin in our bodies is produced by enterochromaffin cells in the gut. Some irritants in food, as well as radiation or chemotherapy, make these cells release more serotonin, which can trigger feelings of nausea and vomiting. This is due to the activation of 5-HT3 serotonin receptors, which are in fact Cys-loop ligand-gated ion channels. 5-HT3 antagonists are now used in clinics to treat therapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and they are also considered a potential therapeutic approach for treating depression and anxiety.

Speaking of depression, it’s the leading cause of disability worldwide and is estimated to cost $44 billion a year in lost productivity in the U.S. alone. Thus, there is increased interest in research and drug development in this area, with a lot of attention being given to ion channels and transporters. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), for example, are the most prescribed type of antidepressant. Dextromethorphan (NMDAR antagonist, SLC6A4 blocker, nAChRs NAM) combined with bupropion has been recently approved by the FDA for major depressive disorder. A number of new modulators of NMDAR and GABA-A are now in clinical trials for depression.

Yes, it turns out that ion channels and transporters are central to our mood control, influencing everything from our daily mood swings to our long-term mental health. But, while the science of mood regulation is complex, the concept of enhancing our workday mood doesn’t have to be. Let’s just remember to take a moment to engage in activities that bring us joy and laughter.