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Annu Rev Med. 1998;49:173-84.

The role of glutamatergic neurotransmission in the pathophysiology of alcoholism.

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  • 1Laboratory of Molecular and Developmental Neuroscience, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA.


Recent evidence suggests that ethanol abuse produces its diverse effects on the brain to a substantial degree by disrupting the function of the major excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamate. Ethanol, at concentrations associated with behavioral effects in humans, inhibits the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, which mediates the post-synaptic excitatory effects of glutamate. Tolerance to ethanol results in up-regulation of the NMDA receptor so that abrupt withdrawal produces a hyperexcitable state that leads to seizures, delerium tremens, and excitotoxic neuronal death. Ethanol's inhibition of the NMDA receptor in the fetal brain likely contributes to the CNS manifestations of fetal alcohol syndrome. Therapeutic strategies aimed at correcting glutamatergic dysregulation in alcoholism need to be explored.

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