Transport of glutamate and other amino acids at the blood-brain barrier

J Nutr. 2000 Apr;130(4S Suppl):1016S-22S. doi: 10.1093/jn/130.4.1016S.


In most regions of the brain, the uptake of glutamate and other anionic excitatory amino acids from the circulation is limited by the blood-brain barrier (BBB). In most animals, the BBB is formed by the brain vascular endothelium, which contains cells that are joined by multiple bands of tight junctions. These junctions effectively close off diffusion through intercellular pores; as a result, most solutes cross the BBB either by diffusing across the lipoid endothelial cell membranes or by being transported across by specific carriers. Glutamate transport at the BBB has been studied by both in vitro cell uptake assays and in vivo perfusion methods. The results demonstrate that at physiologic plasma concentrations, glutamate flux from plasma into brain is mediated by a high affinity transport system at the BBB. Efflux from brain back into plasma appears to be driven in large part by a sodium-dependent active transport system at the capillary abluminal membrane. Glutamate concentration in brain interstitial fluid is only a fraction of that of plasma and is maintained fairly independently of small fluctuations in plasma concentration. Restricted brain passage is also observed for several excitatory glutamate analogs, including domoic acid and kynurenic acid. In summary, the BBB is one component of a regulatory system that helps maintain brain interstitial fluid glutamate concentration independently of the circulation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Transport Systems
  • Amino Acids / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / physiology*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*


  • Amino Acid Transport Systems
  • Amino Acids
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Glutamic Acid