Serotonin and brain development

Int Rev Neurobiol. 2004:59:111-74. doi: 10.1016/S0074-7742(04)59006-2.


The role of the serotonergic system in the neuroplastic events that create, repair, and degenerate the brain has been explored. Synaptic plasticity occurs throughout life and is critical during brain development. Evidence from biochemical, pharmacological, and clinical studies demonstrates the huge importance of an intact serotonergic system for normal central nervous system (CNS)function. Serotonin acts as a growth factor during embryogenesis, and serotonin receptor activity forms a crucial part of the cascade of events leading to changes in brain structure. The serotonergic system interacts with brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), S100beta, and other chemical messengers, in addition to ts cross talk with the GABAergic, glutamatergic, and dopaminergic neurotransmitter systems. Disruption of these processes may contribute to CNS disorders that have been associated with impaired development. Furthermore, many psychiatric drugs alter serotonergic activity and have been shown to create changes in brain structure with long-term treatment. However, the mechanisms for their therapeutic efficacy are still unclear. Treatments for psychiatric illness are usually chronic and alleviate psychiatric symptoms, rather than cure these diseases. Therefore, greater exploration of the serotonin system during brain development and growth could lead to real progress in the discovery of treatments for mental disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / metabolism
  • Autistic Disorder / etiology
  • Autistic Disorder / metabolism
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Down Syndrome / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Models, Animal
  • Mood Disorders / metabolism
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Receptors, Serotonin / chemistry
  • Receptors, Serotonin / classification
  • Receptors, Serotonin / metabolism
  • Schizophrenia / metabolism
  • Serotonin / physiology*
  • Stress, Physiological / metabolism
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Tryptophan / metabolism


  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Serotonin
  • Tryptophan