Biomedical Updates

Noradrenaline Memory Consolidation and Retrieval

Noradrenaline is a catecholamine, a “fight or flight” hormone released by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Catecholamines are part of the sympathetic nervous system. In addition, noradrenaline is also a neurotransmitter, a memory messenger. Altogether, it exerts an abundance of effects and mediates many functions in living organisms. Noradrenaline plays an essential role in the central nervous system (CNS).

Not to be unnerved, noradrenaline affects behaviors, including a modulation of vigilance, arousal, attention, motivation, reward, and also learning and memory. Almost all brain noradrenergic fibers arise from the brainstem nucleus known as the locus coeruleus (the “blue spot,” the color of which is due to light scattering from melanin in noradrenergic nerve cell bodies). In fact, the locus coeruleus is the principal site for brain synthesis of noradrenaline (aka norepinephrine).

The effects of noradrenaline are mediated by two distinct super-families of receptors, named alpha- and beta-adrenoceptors. They are further divided into subgroups exhibiting specific roles in modulating behavior and cognition in animals. Adrenoceptors are located on the periphery as well as in the CNS and selective alpha- and beta- agonists and antagonists are used to assess their function.

In a new review, accumulated findings about the anatomy and physiology of the noradrenergic system in the CNS are summarized, and the pharmacological effects on specific adrenoceptor types are discussed.1 Even though noradrenaline was discovered by the Swedish physiologist Ulf von Euler* as recently as the mid-1940s, much information has complied, but alas, it is rarely reviewed in an encompassing way. This paper is valuable because it also shows the importance of noradrenaline to maintain the cognitive processes such as attention, perception, and particularly the memory consolidation and retrieval. When these processes are disrupted the results may include neuropsychiatric diseases and neurodegeneration. The precursor amino acid phenylalanine, along with vitamin and mineral cofactors (vitamin B6, vitamin C, folic acid and copper) are necessary to make noradrenaline in your brain.

* Reverse transcription polymer chain reaction is a laboratory technique commonly used in molecular biology to generate many copies of a DNA sequence, a process termed “amplification,” in order to rapidly identify those sequences.


  1. Prokopová I. Noradrenaline and behavior. Cesk Fysiol 2010;59(2):51-8.

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