MindBody: Neuropeptides

With the discovery of neuropeptides, the body-mind connection is no longer a theory. We literally think with our entire body. Our body-mind connection has hard science proof. It's been around for decades.

Research in the 1980s found that there were neuropeptide-receptor distribution everywhere in brain structures associated with emotional processing and throughout many organ systems. In discovering this fact, the traditional limitations of brain-body boundaries was surpassed. The neuropeptides that make up the cellular area surrounding emotion connected to the parasynaptic system. Immunologically competent cells produce neuropeptides and nerve cells produce immune-associated cytokines. Basically, there is a direct connection between how we feel and our immunity against disease (Pert, Dryer, Ruff, 1998).

How do neuropeptides actually work? What is a neuropeptide? Neuropeptides are small proteins produced by neurons that act on G protein-coupled receptors and are responsible for slow-onset, long-lasting modulation of synaptic transmission. Neuropeptides often coexist with each other or with other neurotransmitters in single neurons.

A (NOOR-oh-PEP-tide) is a member of a class of protein-like molecules made in the brain. Neuropeptides consist of short chains of amino acids, with some functioning as neurotransmitters and some functioning as hormones. They contribute to extensive modulation of circuit activity and have profound influences on our physiology.

"Conditioning is a powerful bridge between mind and body. The body cannot tell the difference between events that are actual threats to survival and events that are present in thought alone" (Borysenko, 2007, p13).

"Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is a 36-amino-acid peptide transmitter abundantly expressed in forebrain limbic and brain stem areas that regulate stress and emotional behaviors. The ability of the psyche to withstand severe, repeated traumas—or to rebound and recover from them—is the hallmark of psychological resiliency. A major neurochemical linked to the regulation of these responses is neuropeptide Y (NPY), which is increasingly suspected to be a potential ‘stress-resilience’ factor in humans. ( 3, 4)....Although hypervigilance, increased alertness and ideations of threat are adaptive in a truly dangerous situation—such as in a combat zone—these states are maladaptive in the course of ordinary, banal experience. Similarly, although generation of a ‘fight-or-flight’ level of arousal is normative during a mortal threat, it is not useful once the threat no longer exists. Some individuals exhibit persistent hyperactivity that can last years, or decades, after a traumatic stress—or series of traumatic stresses—and suffer from insomnia, irritability, explosiveness and/or hypervigilance to varying degrees (Say & Geracioti, 2012)

Below is a giant excerpt from the talk by Candace Pert, circa 1985-88, (see next paragraph) explaining how the neuropeptides connect to the immune system and other parts of the body. The hard science is there. There is actual proof that the mind, body and emotional areas are completely connected. In understanding how the neuropeptides are released and why, we begin to see how we control them by thought and overcome things like pain, stress, anger and frustration.

"Indeed, the more we know about neuropeptides, the harder it is to think in the traditional terms of a mind and a body. It makes more and more sense to speak of a single integrated entity, a 'bodymind.' Most of what I will describe are laboratory findings, hard science. But it is important to recall that the scientific study of psychology traditionally focuses on animal learning and cognition.

This means that if you look in the index of recent textbooks on psychology, you are not likely to find 'consciousness,' 'mind' or even 'emotions.' These subjects are basically not in the realm of traditional experimental psychology, which primarily studies behavior because it can be seen and measured. What goes on in the so-called black box of the brain/mind, B. F. Skinner has maintained, is not something to be speculated about. It cannot be observed, and so its study is not hard science.

The experiments showing the connection between emotions and the limbic system were first done by Wilder Penfield and other neurologists who worked with conscious, awake individuals. The neurologists found that when they used electrodes to stimulate the cortex over the amygdala they could evoke a whole gamut of emotional displays-powerful reactions of grief, of pain, of pleasure associated with profound memories, and also the total somatic accompaniment of emotional states. The limbic system therefore was first identified by psychological experiments...

...we have found that the limbic system is not just in the forebrain, in the classical locations of the amygdala and the hypothalamus. It appears that the body has other places in which many different neuropeptide receptors are located-places where there is a lot of chemical action. We have called these hot spots 'nodal points', and they are anatomically located at places that receive and process a lot of emotional information...

...Now, everyone knows that there are yogis who can train themselves so that they do or do not perceive pain, depending on how they structure their experience. There are other people, called mothers, who have done the same thing. What seems to be going on is that these sort of people are able to plug into their periaqueductal grey. Somehow they gain access to it with their consciousness, I believe-and set pain thresholds. Note what is going on here. In these situations, a person has an experience that brings with it pain, but a part of the person consciously does something so that the pain is not felt. Where is this consciousness coming from-this conscious I-that somehow plugs into the periaqueductal gray so that he or she does not feel a thing?

I want to go back to the idea of a network. A network is different from a hierarchical structure which has one top place. You theoretically can plug into a network at any point and get to any other point. A concept like this seems to me valuable in thinking about the processes by which a consciousness can manage to reach the periaqueductal gray and use it to control pain. The yoga and the laboring woman both use a similar technique to control pain, breathing. Athletes use it, too. Breathing is extremely powerful. I suggest that there is a physical substrate for these phenomena, the brain stem nuclei. I would say that we now must include the brain stem nuclei in the limbic system because they are nodal points, thickly encrusted with neuropeptide receptors and neuropeptides. The idea, then, goes like this: breathing has a physical substrate which is also a nodal point, this nodal point is part of an Information Network in which each part leads to all the other parts, and so, from the nodal points of the brain stem nuclei, the consciousness can, among other things, plug into the periaqueductal gray"(Pert, 1988).

Scientists and psychologists have been able to link the emotional areas with the physical feeling areas as well as explain how the mind might transcend death. I could go on posting more information from this incredible article/talk from Candace Pert, but if you have a real interest in proving mind body with hard science, I suggest you read the whole talk. The pdf is located in the reference below.


1. Pert, Dryer, Ruff. 1998.The psychosomatic network: foundations of mind-body medicine. Europe PMC.


2. Borysenko, J. 2013. Mending the Mind. 2nd Ed. Da Capo Press. p13


3. Yehuda R, Brand S, Yang R-K . Plasma neuropeptide Y concentrations in Combat Exposed Veterans: relationship to trauma exposure, recovery from PTSD, and coping. Biol Psychiatry 2006; 59: 660–663.


4. Yehuda R, Flory JD, Southwick SM, Charney D. Developing an agenda for translational studies of resilience and vulnerability following trauma exposure. Ann N Y Acad Sci 2006; 1071: 379–396.


5. Sah, R., Geracioti, T. 2013. Neuropeptide Y and posttraumatic stress disorder. Mol Psychiatry 18, 646–655


6. Pert, C.B., M.R. Ruff, R.J. Weber, and M. Herkenham. 1985. Neuropeptides and their receptors: a psychosomatic network. J Immunol. 135:820s-826s


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