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J Nutr. 2001 Sep;131(9 Suppl):2498S-504S; discussion 2523S-4S.

In vivo nuclear magnetic resonance studies of glutamate-gamma-aminobutyric acid-glutamine cycling in rodent and human cortex: the central role of glutamine.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.


It has been recognized for many years that the metabolism of brain glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the major excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters, is linked to a substrate cycle between neurons and astrocytes involving glutamine. However, the quantitative significance of these fluxes in vivo was not known. Recent in vivo 13C and 15N NMR studies in rodents and 13C NMR in humans indicate that glutamine synthesis is substantial and that the total glutamate-GABA-glutamine cycling flux, necessary to replenish neurotransmitter glutamate and GABA, accounts for >80% of net glutamine synthesis. In studies of the rodent cortex, a linear relationship exists between the rate of glucose oxidation and total glutamate-GABA-glutamine cycling flux over a large range of cortical electrical activity. The molar stoichiometric relationship (approximately 1:1) found between these fluxes suggests that they share a common mechanism and that the glutamate-GABA-glutamine cycle is coupled to a major fraction of cortical glucose utilization. Thus, glutamine appears to play a central role in the normal functional energetics of the cerebral cortex.

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