Glutamate metabolism in the brain focusing on astrocytes

Adv Neurobiol. 2014:11:13-30. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-08894-5_2.


Metabolism of glutamate, the main excitatory neurotransmitter and precursor of GABA, is exceedingly complex and highly compartmentalized in brain. Maintenance of these neurotransmitter pools is strictly dependent on the de novo synthesis of glutamine in astrocytes which requires both the anaplerotic enzyme pyruvate carboxylase and glutamine synthetase. Glutamate is formed directly from glutamine by deamidation via phosphate activated glutaminase a reaction that also yields ammonia. Glutamate plays key roles linking carbohydrate and amino acid metabolism via the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, as well as in nitrogen trafficking and ammonia homeostasis in brain. The anatomical specialization of astrocytic endfeet enables these cells to rapidly and efficiently remove neurotransmitters from the synaptic cleft to maintain homeostasis, and to provide glutamine to replenish neurotransmitter pools in both glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons. Since the glutamate-glutamine cycle is an open cycle that actively interfaces with other pathways, the de novo synthesis of glutamine in astrocytes helps to maintain the operation of this cycle. The fine-tuned biochemical specialization of astrocytes allows these cells to respond to subtle changes in neurotransmission by dynamically adjusting their anaplerotic and glycolytic activities, and adjusting the amount of glutamate oxidized for energy relative to direct formation of glutamine, to meet the demands for maintaining neurotransmission. This chapter summarizes the evidence that astrocytes are essential and dynamic partners in both glutamatergic and GABAergic neurotransmission in brain.