Molecular neuroscience is a branch of neuroscience that observes concepts in molecular biology applied to the nervous systems of animals. The scope of this subject covers topics such as molecular neuroanatomy, mechanisms of molecular signaling in the nervous system, the effects of genetics and epigenetic on neuronal development, and the molecular basis for neuroplasticity and neurodegenerative diseases.
As with molecular biology, molecular neuroscience is a relatively new field that is considerably dynamic. In molecular biology, communication between neurons typically occurs by chemical transmission across gaps between the cells called synapses. The transmitted chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, regulate a significant fraction of vital body functions. It is possible to anatomically locate neurotransmitters by labeling techniques. It is possible to chemically identify certain neurotransmitters such as catecholamines by fixing neural tissue sections with formaldehyde.
This can give rise to formaldehyde-induced fluorescence when exposed to ultraviolet light. Dopamine, a catecholamine, was identified in the nematode C. elegans by using this technique. Immunocytochemistry, which involves raising antibodies against targeted chemical or biological entities, includes a few other techniques of interest. A targeted neurotransmitter could be specifically tagged by primary and secondary antibodies with radioactive labeling in order to identify the neurotransmitter by autoradiography. The presence of neurotransmitters (though not necessarily the location) can be observed in enzyme-linked immunocytochemistry or enzyme--linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) in which substrate-binding in the enzymatic assays can induce precipitates, fluorophores, or chemiluminescence. In the event that neurotransmitters cannot be histochemically identified, an alternative method is to locate them by their neural uptake mechanisms.