This introductory article to the special edition on glutamate neurotransmission in neuropsychiatric disorders provides an overview of glutamate neurotransmitter system physiology and pharmacology. Glutamate was only relatively recently recognized as the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the mammalian brain, in part due to its ubiquitous nature and diverse metabolic roles within the CNS. The extremely high concentration of glutamate in brain tissue paired with its excitotoxic potential requires tight physiological regulation of extracellular glutamate levels and receptor signaling in order to assure optimal excitatory neurotransmission but limits excitotoxic damage. In order to achieve this high level of control, the system has developed a complex physiology with multiple regulatory processes modulating glutamate metabolism, release, receptor signaling, and uptake. The basic physiology of the various regulatory components of the system including the rich receptor pharmacology is briefly reviewed. Potential contributions from each of the system's components to the pathophysiology of neuropsychiatric illnesses are briefly discussed, as are the many new pharmacological targets for drug development provided by the system, especially as they pertain to the proceeding preclinical and clinical articles in this issue.
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