cGMP signalling in the mammalian brain: role in synaptic plasticity and behaviour

Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2009;(191):549-79. doi: 10.1007/978-3-540-68964-5_24.


The second messenger cyclic guanosine 3',5'-monophosphate (cGMP) plays a crucial role in the control of cardiovascular and gastrointestinal homeostastis, but its effects on neuronal functions are less established. This review summarizes recent biochemical and functional data on the role of the cGMP signalling pathway in the mammalian brain, with a focus on the regulation of synaptic plasticity, learning, and other complex behaviours. Expression profiling, along with pharmacological and genetic manipulations, indicates important functions of nitric oxide (NO)-sensitive soluble guanylyl cyclases (sGCs), cGMP-dependent protein kinases (cGKs), and cGMP-regulated phosphodiesterases (PDEs) as generators, effectors, and modulators of cGMP signals in the brain, respectively. In addition, neuronal cGMP signalling can be transmitted through cyclic nucleotide-gated (CNG) or hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated (HCN) ion channels. The canonical NO/sGC/cGMP/cGK pathway modulates long-term changes of synaptic activity in the hippocampus, amygdala, cerebellum, and other brain regions, and contributes to distinct forms of learning and memory, such as fear conditioning, motor adaptation, and object recognition. Behavioural studies indicate that cGMP signalling is also involved in anxiety, addiction, and the pathogenesis of depression and schizophrenia. At the molecular level, different cGK isoforms appear to mediate effects of cGMP on presynaptic transmitter release and postsynaptic functions. The cGKs have been suggested to modulate cytoskeletal organization, vesicle and AMPA receptor trafficking, and gene expression via phosphorylation of various substrates including VASP, RhoA, RGS2, hSERT, GluR1, G-substrate, and DARPP-32. These and other components of the cGMP signalling cascade may be attractive new targets for the treatment of cognitive impairment, drug abuse, and psychiatric disorders.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cyclic GMP / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology


  • Nitric Oxide
  • Cyclic GMP