The redox switch/redox coupling hypothesis

Neurochem Int. May-Jun 2006;48(6-7):523-30. doi: 10.1016/j.neuint.2005.12.036. Epub 2006 Mar 10.


We provide an integrative interpretation of neuroglial metabolic coupling including the presence of subcellular compartmentation of pyruvate and monocarboxylate recycling through the plasma membrane of both neurons and glial cells. The subcellular compartmentation of pyruvate allows neurons and astrocytes to select between glucose and lactate as alternative substrates, depending on their relative extracellular concentration and the operation of a redox switch. This mechanism is based on the inhibition of glycolysis at the level of glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase by NAD(+) limitation, under sufficiently reduced cytosolic NAD(+)/NADH redox conditions. Lactate and pyruvate recycling through the plasma membrane allows the return to the extracellular medium of cytosolic monocarboxylates enabling their transcellular, reversible, exchange between neurons and astrocytes. Together, intracellular pyruvate compartmentation and monocarboxylate recycling result in an effective transcellular coupling between the cytosolic NAD(+)/NADH redox states of both neurons and glial cells. Following glutamatergic neurotransmission, increased glutamate uptake by the astrocytes is proposed to augment glycolysis and tricarboxylic acid cycle activity, balancing to a reduced cytosolic NAD(+)/NADH in the glia. Reducing equivalents are transferred then to the neuron resulting in a reduced neuronal NAD(+)/NADH redox state. This may eventually switch off neuronal glycolysis, favoring the oxidation of extracellular lactate in the lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) equilibrium and in the neuronal tricarboxylic acid cycles. Finally, pyruvate derived from neuronal lactate oxidation, may return to the extracellular space and to the astrocyte, restoring the basal redox state and beginning a new loop of the lactate/pyruvate transcellular coupling cycle. Transcellular redox coupling operates through the plasma membrane transporters of monocarboxylates, similarly to the intracellular redox shuttles coupling the cytosolic and mitochondrial redox states through the transporters of the inner mitochondrial membrane. Finally, transcellular redox coupling mechanisms may couple glycolytic and oxidative zones in other heterogeneous tissues including muscle and tumors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Biological Transport, Active
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Glyceraldehyde 3-Phosphate Dehydrogenase (NADP+) / metabolism
  • Glycolysis
  • Humans
  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism*
  • Monocarboxylic Acid Transporters / metabolism
  • NAD / metabolism
  • Neuroglia / metabolism*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Pyruvic Acid / metabolism*


  • Monocarboxylic Acid Transporters
  • NAD
  • Lactic Acid
  • Pyruvic Acid
  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase
  • Glyceraldehyde 3-Phosphate Dehydrogenase (NADP+)
  • Glucose