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Involvement of extrasynaptic glutamate in physiological and pathophysiological changes of neuronal excitability

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Abstract

Glutamate is the most abundant neurotransmitter of the central nervous system, as the majority of neurons use glutamate as neurotransmitter. It is also well known that this neurotransmitter is not restricted to synaptic clefts, but found in the extrasynaptic regions as ambient glutamate. Extrasynaptic glutamate originates from spillover of synaptic release, as well as from astrocytes and microglia. Its concentration is magnitudes lower than in the synaptic cleft, but receptors responding to it have higher affinity for it. Extrasynaptic glutamate receptors can be found in neuronal somatodendritic location, on astroglia, oligodendrocytes or microglia. Activation of them leads to changes of neuronal excitability with different amplitude and kinetics. Extrasynaptic glutamate is taken up by neurons and astrocytes mostly via EAAT transporters, and astrocytes, in turn metabolize it to glutamine. Extrasynaptic glutamate is involved in several physiological phenomena of the central nervous system. It regulates neuronal excitability and synaptic strength by involving astroglia; contributing to learning and memory formation, neurosecretory and neuromodulatory mechanisms, as well as sleep homeostasis.The extrasynaptic glutamatergic system is affected in several brain pathologies related to excitotoxicity, neurodegeneration or neuroinflammation. Being present in dementias, neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric diseases or tumor invasion in a seemingly uniform way, the system possibly provides a common component of their pathogenesis. Although parts of the system are extensively discussed by several recent reviews, in this review I attempt to summarize physiological actions of the extrasynaptic glutamate on neuronal excitability and provide a brief insight to its pathology for basic understanding of the topic.

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