Photophysics of a neurotransmitter: Ionization and spectroscopic properties of serotonin
The neurotransmitter serotonin plays a modulatory role in the regulation of various cognitive and behavioral functions such as sleep, mood, pain, depression, anxiety, and learning by binding to a number of serotonin receptors present upon the cell surface. The spectroscopic properties of serotonin and their modulation with ionization state have been studied. Results show that serotonin fluorescence, as measured by its intensity, emission maximum, and lifetime, is pH dependent. These results are further supported by absorbance changes that show very similar pH dependence. Changes in fluorescence intensity and absorbance as a function of pH are consistent with a pK(a) of 10.4 +/- 0.2. The ligand-binding site for serotonin receptors is believed to be located in one of the transmembrane domains of the receptors. To develop a basis for monitoring the binding of serotonin to its receptors, its fluorescence in nonpolar media has been studied. No significant binding or partitioning of serotonin to membranes under physiological conditions was observed. Serotonin fluorescence in solvents of lower polarity is characterized by an enhancement in intensity and a blue shift in emission maximum, although the solvatochromism is much less pronounced than in tryptophan. In view of the multiple roles played by the serotonergic systems in the central and peripheral nervous systems, these results are relevant to future studies of serotonin and its binding to its receptors.