Rationale: L: -Glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system (CNS) and mediates its actions via activation of both ionotropic and metabotropic receptor families. The development of selective ligands, including competitive agonists and antagonists and positive and negative allosteric modulators, has enabled investigation of the functional roles of glutamate receptor family members.
Objective: In this review we describe the subunit structure and composition of the ionotropic and metabotropic glutamate receptors and discuss their pharmacology, particularly with respect to selective tools useful for investigation of their function in the CNS.
Results: A large number of ligands are now available that are selective either for glutamate receptor subfamilies or for particular receptor subtypes. Such ligands have enabled considerable advances in the elucidation of the physiological and pathophysiological roles of receptor family members. Furthermore, efficacy in animal models of neurological and psychiatric disorders has supported the progression of several glutamatergic ligands into clinical studies. These include ionotropic glutamate receptor antagonists, which have entered clinical trials for disorders including epilepsy and ischaemic stroke, alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoazolepropionic acid (AMPA) receptor positive allosteric modulators which are under evaluation as cognitive enhancers, and metabotropic glutamate receptor 2 (mGluR2) agonists which are undergoing clinical evaluation as anxiolytics. Furthermore, preclinical studies have illustrated therapeutic potential for ligands selective for other receptor subtypes in various disorders. These include mGluR1 antagonists in pain, mGluR5 antagonists in anxiety, pain and drug abuse and mGluR5 positive allosteric modulators in schizophrenia.
Conclusions: Selective pharmacological tools have enabled the study of glutamate receptors. However, pharmacological coverage of the family is incomplete and considerable scope remains for the development of novel ligands, particularly those with in vivo utility, and for the their use together with existing tools for the further investigation of the roles of receptor family members in CNS function and as potentially novel therapeutics.