Amino acid neurochemistry of the vertebrate retina

Prog Retin Eye Res. 1999 Nov;18(6):811-66. doi: 10.1016/s1350-9462(98)00036-6.


The dominant neurochemicals involved in encoding sensory information are the amino acid neurotransmitters, glutamate, gamma-aminobutyrate (GABA) and glycine, which mediate fast point-to-point synaptic transmission in the retina and other parts of the central nervous system. The relative abundance of these neurochemicals and the existence of neuronal and glial uptake mechanisms as well as a plethora of receptors support the key role these neurochemicals play in shaping neural information. However, in addition to subserving neurotransmitter roles, amino acids subserve normal metabolic,cellular functions, may be precursors for other amino acids, and may also be associated with protein synthesis. Post-embedding immunocytochemistry of small molecules has allowed the characterization of multiple amino acid profiles within subpopulations of neurons in the vertebrate retina. The general theme emerging from these studies is that the retinal through pathway uses glutamate as its neurotransmitter, and the lateral elements, GABA and/or glycine. Co-localization studies using quantitative immunocytochemistry have shown that virtually all neuronal space can be accounted for by the three dominant amino acids. In addition, co-localization studies have demonstrated that there are no purely aspartate, glutamine, alanine. leucine or ornithine immunoreactive neurons and thus these amino acids are likely to act as metabolites and may sustain glutamate production through a multitude of enzymatic pathways. The mapping of multiple cellular metabolic profiles during development or in degenerating retinas has shown that amino acid neurochemistry is a sensitive marker for metabolic activity. In the degenerating retina, (RCS retina), neurochemical anomalies were evident early in development (from birth), even before photoreceptors mature at PND6-8 implying a generalized metabolic dysfunction. Identification of metabolic anomalies within subpopulation of neurons is now possible and can be used to investigate a multitude of retinal functions including amino acid metabolic and neurochemical changes secondary to external insult as well as to expand our understanding of the intricate interrelationship between neurons and glia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Forecasting
  • Glutamic Acid / pharmacokinetics
  • Glutamic Acid / physiology*
  • Immunochemistry
  • Neurochemistry / methods
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology
  • Retina / chemistry*
  • Retina / physiology*
  • Retina / ultrastructure
  • Vertebrates / physiology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology*


  • Amino Acids
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Glutamic Acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid