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Norepinephrine (NE) which can also be referred to as noradrenaline (NA) or noradrenalin, is a member of the catecholamine family of hormones and neurotransmitters which has many vital functions in the brain and the body. Within the brain, norepinephrine is found to be formed in the nuclei or closely packed brain cell neurons which are yet too small to exert any meaningful effects on other areas of the brain. Outside the brain, norepinephrine is primary functions as a neurotransmitter by sympathetic ganglia which is located in the abdomen or near the spinal cord, it can also be directly released into the bloodstream via the adrenal glands. Norepinephrine acts on a specific target cell by binding to and activating certain noradrenergic receptors which are located on the cell surface, regardless of where and how it is released.
Norepinephrine has a structure is very similar to epinephrine, it only difference is the presence of a methyl group attached to its nitrogen in epinephrine whereas in norepinephrine this methyl group is replaced by a hydrogen atom. One of the major functions of norepinephrine is to mobilise the body and in particular the brain for action. Within the brain, it is well known to promoting vigilance, increases arousal and alertness, focuses attention, increases restlessness or anxiety, enhances the formation and retrieval of memory. Whereas, in the rest of the body it is able to increase blood pressure or heart rate, reduces blood flow to the gastrointestinal system, increases blood flow to skeletal muscles, triggers the release of glucose from energy stores, inhibits gastrointestinal motility and voiding of the bladder. The release of norepinephrine is at its lowest during sleep, rises during wakefulness and can reach highest levels during situations of danger or stress, in the so-called fight-or-flight response.