The action of antidepressants on the glutamate system: regulation of glutamate release and glutamate receptors

Biol Psychiatry. 2013 Jun 15;73(12):1180-8. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.11.009. Epub 2012 Dec 28.


Recent compelling evidence has suggested that the glutamate system is a primary mediator of psychiatric pathology and also a target for rapid-acting antidepressants. Clinical research in mood and anxiety disorders has shown alterations in levels, clearance, and metabolism of glutamate and consistent volumetric changes in brain areas where glutamate neurons predominate. In parallel, preclinical studies with rodent stress and depression models have found dendritic remodeling and synaptic spines reduction in corresponding areas, suggesting these as major factors in psychopathology. Enhancement of glutamate release/transmission, in turn induced by stress/glucocorticoids, seems crucial for structural/functional changes. Understanding mechanisms of maladaptive plasticity may allow identification of new targets for drugs and therapies. Interestingly, traditional monoaminergic-based antidepressants have been repeatedly shown to interfere with glutamate system function, starting with modulation of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. Subsequently, it has been shown that antidepressants reduce glutamate release and synaptic transmission; in particular, it was found antidepressants prevent the acute stress-induced enhancement of glutamate release. Additional studies have shown that antidepressants may partly reverse the maladaptive changes in synapses/circuitry in stress and depression models. Finally, a number of studies over the years have shown that these drugs regulate glutamate receptors, reducing the function of NMDA receptors, potentiating the function of α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole-propionic acid receptors, and, more recently, exerting variable effects on different subtypes of metabotropic glutamate receptors. The development of NMDA receptor antagonists has opened new avenues for glutamatergic, rapid acting, antidepressants, while additional targets in the glutamate synapse await development of new compounds for better, faster antidepressant action.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Drug Design
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Glutamate / metabolism*


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Receptors, Glutamate
  • Glutamic Acid