Vesicular neurotransmitter transporters
Neurotransmission depends on the regulated release of chemical transmitter molecules. This requires the packaging of these substances into the specialized secretory vesicles of neurons and neuroendocrine cells, a process mediated by specific vesicular transporters. The family of genes encoding the vesicular transporters for biogenic amines and acetylcholine have recently been cloned. Direct comparison of their transport characteristics and pharmacology provides information about vesicular transport bioenergetics, substrate feature recognition by each transporter, and the role of vesicular amine storage in the mechanism of action of psychopharmacologic and neurotoxic agents. Regulation of vesicular transport activity may affect levels of neurotransmitter available for neurosecretion and be an important site for the regulation of synaptic function. Gene knockout studies have determined vesicular transport function is critical for survival and have enabled further evaluation of the role of vesicular neurotransmitter transporters in behavior and neurotoxicity. Molecular analysis is beginning to reveal the sites involved in vesicular transporter function and the sites that determine substrate specificity. In addition, the molecular basis for the selective targeting of these transporters to specific vesicle populations and the biogenesis of monoaminergic and cholinergic synaptic vesicles are areas of research that are currently being explored. This information provides new insights into the pharmacology and physiology of biogenic amine and acetylcholine vesicular storage in cardiovascular, endocrine, and central nervous system function and has important implications for neurodegenerative disease.