2002 Volume 25 Issue 3 Pages 291-301
The Na+-dependent transport of L-glutamate (GluT) has been identified in brain tissue more than thirty years ago. Neurochemical studies, performed in various experimental models during 1970's, defined the basic rules for the selection or synthesis of GluT-specific substrates and inhibitors. The protein molecules (transporters) that mediate the translocation of the substrates across the plasma membrane have been cloned and studied during the last ten years. The sites on the transporters that bind the substrates favour glutamate-like or aspartate-like molecules with one positively charged and two negatively charged ionised groups. Substituents at C3 and C4 are often tolerated but substitutions at C2 or alterations of the ionisable groups usually impede the binding. The substrate binding sites display an “anomalous” selectivity towards stereoisomers. These structural requirements are shared by all Na+-dependent glutamate transporters thus making the design of transporter-selective ligands a challenging task. Moreover, the molecular mechanisms of the transport have not yet been adequately elucidated. Data from a wide variety of experimental studies strongly indicate that Na+-dependent GluT regulates the functioning of the glutamatergic excitatory synapses—the most important rapid inter-neuronal signalling system in the mammalian brain. Altered structural and/or functional properties of the Na+-dependent glutamate transporters have been implicated in the damage to the brain tissue following cerebral ischaemia and in the progressive loss of neurons in conditions such as Alzheimer dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Furthermore, it seems that fine-tuning of glutamatergic neurotransmission by regulating the Na+-dependent GluT could be useful in the therapy of schizophrenia.