Send to

Choose Destination
Neurochem Int. 2004 Jul-Aug;45(2-3):285-96.

Intercellular metabolic compartmentation in the brain: past, present and future.

Author information

College of Medical Sciences, China Medical University, Shenyang, PR China.


The first indication of 'metabolic compartmentation' in brain was the demonstration that glutamine after intracisternal [14C]glutamate administration is formed from a compartment of the glutamate pool that comprises at most one-fifth of the total glutamate content in the brain. This pool, which was designated 'the small compartment,' is now known to be made up predominantly or exclusively of astrocytes, which accumulate glutamate avidly and express glutamine synthetase activity, whereas this enzyme is absent from neurons, which eventually were established to constitute 'the large compartment.' During the following decades, the metabolic compartment concept was refined, aided by emerging studies of energy metabolism and glutamate uptake in cellularly homogenous preparations and by the histochemical observations that the two key enzymes glutamine synthetase and pyruvate carboxylase are active in astrocytes but absent in neurons. It is, however, only during the last few years that nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, assisted by previously obtained knowledge of metabolic pathways, has allowed accurate determination in the human brain in situ of actual metabolic fluxes through the neuronal tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, the glial, presumably mainly astrocytic, TCA cycle, pyruvate carboxylation, and the 'glutamate-glutamine cycle,' connecting neuronal and astrocytic metabolism. Astrocytes account for 20% of oxidative metabolism of glucose in the human brain cortex and accumulate the bulk of neuronally released transmitter glutamate, part of which is rapidly converted to glutamine and returned to neurons in the glutamate-glutamine cycle. However, one-third of released transmitter glutamate is replaced by de novo synthesis of glutamate from glucose in astrocytes, suggesting that at steady state a corresponding amount of glutamate is oxidatively degraded. Net degradation of glutamate may not always equal its net production from glucose and enhanced glutamatergic activity, occurring during different types of cerebral stimulation, including the establishment of memory, may be associated with increased de novo synthesis of glutamate. This process may contribute to a larger increase in glucose utilization rate than in rate of oxygen consumption during brain activation. The energy yield in astrocytes from glutamate formation is strongly dependent upon the fate of the generated glutamate.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center