Dr. Candace Pert in her lab.Dr. Candace Pert in her lab.
Time 1974-1988
Title Molecules of Emotion

Opiates such as morphine have long been known to effectively reduce pain. In 1974, Candace Pert and Saul Snyder discover that the brain has its own receptors for opiates. This provides evidence that the brain must produce something, on its own, that is akin to drugs like morphine.

Pert's and Snyder’s discovery enables other researchers to find opiate-like molecules produced by the brain – endorphins. Today, it is widely known that endorphins, such as those produced during exercise, are the body’s own natural mood enhancers and/or painkillers.

Together, receptor site and endorphin discoveries lead Pert and others to later theories that receptor sites (and the peptides released from nerves that bind to them) form the biochemical basis of emotion.

Dr. Pert and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health map the locations of receptors for neuropeptides (tiny bits of protein made of strings of amino acids) and find that they are not only present in the brain but they are found in other organs throughout the body. Pert and her team suggest that the biochemical basis of emotion involves the presence of these molecules in both body and mind. Pert’s theory echoes what William James suggested in 1884 when he proposed that emotions are located everywhere in the body, and not exclusively in the brain.

Pert believes that the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems are interlocked in a body-wide system where each part can communicate with every other part. This concept challenges the prevailing idea that the mind has power over the body. Instead, according to Pert, bodily emotions are the key. “Emotions are the nexus between mind and matter, going back and forth between the two and influencing both."

Religion and spirituality are not directly addressed in the research. However, Pert famously states that: "Science, at its core, is a spiritual endeavor." Since her landmark NIH-sponsored research, she has drawn more on Eastern concepts of interconnectedness to interpret bodily processes.

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