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Neuroscience

The chemical nature of the main central excitatory transmitter: a critical appraisal based upon release studies and synaptic vesicle localization.


PMID 7902967

Abstract

The chemical nature of the central transmitter responsible for fast excitatory events and other related phenomena is analysed against the historical background that has progressively clarified the structure and function of central synapses. One of the problems posed by research in this field has been whether one or more of the numerous excitatory substances endogenous to the brain is responsible for fast excitatory synaptic transmission, or if such a substance is, or was, a previously unknown one. The second question is related to the presence in the CNS of three main receptor types related to fast excitatory transmission, the so-called alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole propionic acid, kainate and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors. This implies the possibility that each receptor type might have its own endogenous agonist, as has sometimes been suggested. To answer such questions, an analysis was done of how different endogenous substances, including L-glutamate, L-aspartate, L-cysteate, L-homocysteate, L-cysteine sulfinate, L-homocysteine sulfinate, N-acetyl-L-aspartyl glutamate, quinolinate, L-sulfoserine, S-sulfo-L-cysteine, as well as possible unknown compounds, were able to fulfil the more important criteria for transmitter identification, namely identity of action, induced release, and presence in synaptic vesicles. The conclusion of this analysis is that glutamate is clearly the main central excitatory transmitter, because it acts on all three of the excitatory receptors, it is released by exocytosis and, above all, it is present in synaptic vesicles in a very high concentration, comparable to the estimated number of acetylcholine molecules in a quantum, i.e. 6000 molecules. Regarding a possible transmitter role for aspartate, for which a large body of evidence has been presented, it seems, when this evidence is carefully scrutinized, that it is either inconclusive, or else negative. This suggests that aspartate is not a classical central excitatory transmitter. From this analysis, it is suggested that the terms alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole propionic acid, kainate and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors, should be changed to that of glutamate receptors, and, more specifically, to GLUA, GLUK and GLUN receptors, respectively. When subtypes are described, a Roman numeral may be added, as in GLUNI, GLUNII, and so on.

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