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Gareth Leng

The brain hosts a vast and diverse repertoire of neuropeptides, a class of signalling molecules often described as neurotransmitters. Here I argue that this description entails a catalogue of misperceptions, misperceptions that feed into a narrative in which information processing in the brain can be understood only through mapping neuronal connectivity and by studying the transmission of electrically conducted signals through chemical synapses. I argue that neuropeptide signalling in the brain involves primarily autocrine, paracrine and neurohormonal mechanisms that do not depend on synaptic connectivity and that it is not solely dependent on electrical activity but on mechanisms analogous to secretion from classical endocrine cells. As in classical endocrine systems, to understand the role of neuropeptides in the brain, we must understand not only how their release is regulated, but also how their synthesis is regulated and how the sensitivity of their targets is regulated. We must also understand the full diversity of effects of neuropeptides on those targets, including their effects on gene expression.