Presynaptic ionotropic receptors and the control of transmitter release

Annu Rev Neurosci. 1999:22:443-85. doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.22.1.443.


The quantity of neurotransmitter released into the synaptic cleft, the reliability with which it is released, and the response of the postsynaptic cell to that transmitter all contribute to the strength of a synaptic connection. The presynaptic nerve terminal is a major regulatory site for activity-dependent changes in synaptic function. Ionotropic receptors for the inhibitory amino acid GABA, expressed on the presynaptic terminals of crustacean motor axons and vertebrate sensory neurons, were the first well-defined mechanism for the heterosynaptic transmitter-mediated regulation of transmitter release. Recently, presynaptic ionotropic receptors for a large range of transmitters have been found to be widespread throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems. In this review, we first consider some general theoretical issues regarding whether and how presynaptic ionotropic receptors are important regulators of presynaptic function. We consider the criteria that should be met to identify a presynaptic ionotropic receptor and its regulatory function and review several examples of presynaptic receptors that meet at least some of those criteria. We summarize the classic studies of presynaptic inhibition mediated by GABA-gated Cl channels and then focus on presynaptic nicotinic ACh receptors and presynaptic glutamate receptors. Finally, we briefly discuss evidence for other types of presynaptic ionotropic receptors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / physiology
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Ion Channel Gating / physiology
  • Ion Channels / physiology
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Presynaptic Terminals / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / physiology*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / physiology
  • Receptors, Glutamate / physiology


  • Ion Channels
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Receptors, Glutamate
  • Acetylcholine