Multiple functions of neuronal plasma membrane neurotransmitter transporters

Prog Neurobiol. 2015 Nov;134:1-16. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2015.08.002. Epub 2015 Aug 21.


Removal from receptors of neurotransmitters just released into synapses is one of the major steps in neurotransmission. Transporters situated on the plasma membrane of nerve endings and glial cells perform the process of neurotransmitter (re)uptake. Because the density of transporters in the membranes can fluctuate, transporters can determine the transmitter concentrations at receptors, thus modulating indirectly the excitability of neighboring neurons. Evidence is accumulating that neurotransmitter transporters can exhibit multiple functions. Being bidirectional, neurotransmitter transporters can mediate transmitter release by working in reverse, most often under pathological conditions that cause ionic gradient dysregulations. Some transporters reverse to release transmitters, like dopamine or serotonin, when activated by 'indirectly acting' substrates, like the amphetamines. Some transporters exhibit as one major function the ability to capture transmitters into nerve terminals that perform insufficient synthesis. Transporter activation can generate conductances that regulate directly neuronal excitability. Synaptic and non-synaptic transporters play different roles. Cytosolic Na(+) elevations accompanying transport can interact with plasmalemmal or/and mitochondrial Na(+)/Ca(2+) exchangers thus generating calcium signals. Finally, neurotransmitter transporters can behave as receptors mediating releasing stimuli able to cause transmitter efflux through multiple mechanisms. Neurotransmitter transporters are therefore likely to play hitherto unknown roles in multiple therapeutic treatments.

Keywords: Neurotransmitter transporter functions; Transporter-mediated direct effects; Transporter-stimulated release; Transporter–transporter cross-talks.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Plasma Membrane Neurotransmitter Transport Proteins / metabolism*


  • Plasma Membrane Neurotransmitter Transport Proteins