Neurochemistry and the future of neuroscience

Matt Jones jonesmat at
Thu Feb 7 11:05:51 EST 2002

Jason Benjamin <childish4god at> wrote in message news:<3C57166F.6080407 at>...
> mat wrote:
> >>Originally I wanted to be a neurologist, but I've found that I'm more 
> >>interested in discovering how the brain works and how the nervous system 
> >>communicates in a specific fashion.  I want to be able to find ways to 
> >>interpret the chemical signals of the nervous system (neurotransmitters) 
> >>and understand the communication protocols used between the neural cells.
> >>
> >>I'm really not too much into the pharmocology 
> >>
> > 
> > If you want to understand transmitter systems and the 'protocols' then
> > pharmacology is exactly the subject you need to study :)
> > 
> You really think so huh?  I mean I don't like dealing with medications 
> and treatments (I don't like the trial and error aspect--although I am 
> glad that they exist to assist).  I'm interested in the neurochemical 
> basis of behavior (the biological structure), and especially memory 
> studies like alzheimers.  I suppose I want to be a neurochemist, because 
> that involves understanding the physics and chemistry in the 
> neurotransmitters.
> Then would you suggest it would be best to get a neurobiology degree, or 
> would biochemistry actually be better?

First, in my opinion it doesn't make any difference what degree you
get. What matters is what subjects, disciplines and methods you
eventually learn. I have one colleague in the Psychology department
that makes electrical recordings from monkey brains, and another in
the same department who mostly does mathematical modeling of brain
function. Meanwhile, in my department, Physiology, there are
behavioral psychologists, molecular biologists, anatomists, and oh
yeah, physiologists. So my advice would be to pick the general
subjects within neuroscience that you want to study, then enter any
good program that has good faculty versed in those areas, whether it
be a Psychology, Physiology, Neuroscience, Pharmacology or Computer
Science department (there are plenty others too).

Next, a word about pharmacology: Pharmacology is not the study of
drugs and when to prescribe them. That is pharmacy. Pharmacology is
the study of the mechanisms of interactions between drugs (including
endogenous neurotransmitters) and their receptors. If you do
pharmacology properly, it is a very mathematically rigorous,
theoretically-grounded hardcore discipline. There's also plenty of
opportunities for applying physics and computer science in

But from what you said, it doesn't seem that pharmacology is really
what you're after. It sounds like you're interested in a) how the
brain processes information, b) how artificial machines process
information, c) interfacing brains with other machines.

If you're already doing Biochem and Comp. Sci., I'd say that's a
pretty good basis for the things that you're interested in. Except
Biochem does n't really address the issue of information processing
much, does it? You should check into more "physiological" disciplines,
especially ones having to do with "electrophysiology". This is the
study of electrical phenomenon, including stuff like the spike firing
that neurons use to encode and transmit information.

There's lots of different kinds of electrophysiology, and people do it
in all sorts of different departments, so you need to look at the
research interests of the faculty rather than just the name of the


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