The glutamatergic system in Alzheimer's disease: a systematic review with meta-analysis

Mol Psychiatry. 2024 Feb 16. doi: 10.1038/s41380-024-02473-0. Online ahead of print.


Glutamatergic neurotransmission system dysregulation may play an important role in the pathophysiology of Alzheimer's disease (AD). However, reported results on glutamatergic components across brain regions are contradictory. Here, we conducted a systematic review with meta-analysis to examine whether there are consistent glutamatergic abnormalities in the human AD brain. We searched PubMed and Web of Science (database origin-October 2023) reports evaluating glutamate, glutamine, glutaminase, glutamine synthetase, glutamate reuptake, aspartate, excitatory amino acid transporters, vesicular glutamate transporters, glycine, D-serine, metabotropic and ionotropic glutamate receptors in the AD human brain (PROSPERO #CDRD42022299518). The studies were synthesized by outcome and brain region. We included cortical regions, the whole brain (cortical and subcortical regions combined), the entorhinal cortex and the hippocampus. Pooled effect sizes were determined with standardized mean differences (SMD), random effects adjusted by false discovery rate, and heterogeneity was examined by I2 statistics. The search retrieved 6 936 articles, 63 meeting the inclusion criteria (N = 709CN/786AD; mean age 75/79). We showed that the brain of AD individuals presents decreased glutamate (SMD = -0.82; I2 = 74.54%; P < 0.001) and aspartate levels (SMD = -0.64; I2 = 89.71%; P = 0.006), and reuptake (SMD = -0.75; I2 = 83.04%; P < 0.001. We also found reduced α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPAR)-GluA2/3 levels (SMD = -0.63; I2 = 95.55%; P = 0.046), hypofunctional N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) (SMD = -0.60; I2 = 91.47%; P < 0.001) and selective reduction of NMDAR-GluN2B subunit levels (SMD = -1.07; I2 = 41.81%; P < 0.001). Regional differences include lower glutamate levels in cortical areas and aspartate levels in cortical areas and in the hippocampus, reduced glutamate reuptake, reduced AMPAR-GluA2/3 in the entorhinal cortex, hypofunction of NMDAR in cortical areas, and a decrease in NMDAR-GluN2B subunit levels in the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus. Other parameters studied were not altered. Our findings show depletion of the glutamatergic system and emphasize the importance of understanding glutamate-mediated neurotoxicity in AD. This study has implications for the development of therapies and biomarkers in AD.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review