Osmotic regulation of neuronal activity: a new role for taurine and glial cells in a hypothalamic neuroendocrine structure

Prog Neurobiol. 2000 Oct;62(2):113-34. doi: 10.1016/s0301-0082(99)00071-4.


Maintenance of osmotic pressure is a primary regulatory process essential for normal cell function. The osmolarity of extracellular fluids is regulated by modifying the intake and excretion of salts and water. A major component of this regulatory process is the neuroendocrine hypothalamo-neurohypophysial system, which consists of neurons located in the paraventricular and supraoptic nuclei. These neurons synthesize the neurohormones vasopressin and oxytocin and release them in the blood circulation. We here review the mechanisms responsible for the osmoregulation of the activity of these neurons. Notably, the osmosensitivity of the supraoptic nucleus is described including the recent data that suggests an important participation of taurine in the transmission of the osmotic information. Taurine is an amino acid mainly known for its involvement in cell volume regulation, as it is one of the major inorganic osmolytes used by cells to compensate for changes in extracellular osmolarity. In the supraoptic nucleus, taurine is highly concentrated in astrocytes, and released in an osmodependent manner through volume-sensitive anion channels. Via its agonist action on neuronal glycine receptors, taurine is likely to contribute to the inhibition of neuronal activity induced by hypotonic stimuli. This inhibitory influence would complement the intrinsic osmosensitivity of supraoptic neurons, mediated by excitatory mechanoreceptors activated under hypertonic conditions. These observations extend the role of taurine from the regulation of cell volume to that of the whole body fluid balance. They also point to a new role of supraoptic glial cells as active components in a neuroendocrine regulatory loop.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / cytology
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology*
  • Neuroglia / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Taurine / physiology*
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance / physiology*


  • Taurine