Regulation and Dysregulation of Glutamate Transporters

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Abstract

Glutamate is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. During synaptic activity, glutamate is released into the synaptic cleft and binds to glutamate receptors on the pre- and postsynaptic membrane as well as on neighboring astrocytes in order to start a number of intracellular signaling cascades. To allow for an efficient signaling to occur, glutamate levels in the synaptic cleft have to be maintained at very low levels. This process is regulated by glutamate transporters, which remove excess extracellular glutamate via a sodium-potassium coupled uptake mechanism. When extracellular glutamate levels rise to about normal, glutamate overactivates glutamate receptors, triggering a multitude of intracellular events in the postsynaptic neuron, which ultimately results in neuronal cell death. This phenomenon is known as excitotoxicity and is the underlying mechanisms of a number of neurodegenerative diseases. A dysfunction of the glutamate transporter is thought to contribute to cell death during excitotoxicity. Therefore, efforts have been made to understand the regulation of glutamate transporter function. Transporter activity can be regulated in different ways, including through gene expression, transporter protein targeting and trafficking and through posttranslational modifications of the transporter protein. The identification of these mechanisms has helped to understand the role of glutamate transporters during pathology and will aid in the development of therapeutic strategies with the transporter as a desirable target.