Send to

Choose Destination
J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2017 Jul;124(7):775-798. doi: 10.1007/s00702-016-1661-z. Epub 2017 Feb 24.

Glutamate, T cells and multiple sclerosis.

Author information

Faculty of Medicine, School of Pharmacy, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel.
Institute of Gene Therapy, Hadassah Medical Center, 91120, Ein Karem, Jerusalem, Israel.


Glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the nervous system, where it induces multiple beneficial and essential effects. Yet, excess glutamate, evident in a kaleidoscope of acute and chronic pathologies, is absolutely catastrophic, since it induces excitotoxicity and massive loss of brain function. Both the beneficial and the detrimental effects of glutamate are mediated by a large family of glutamate receptors (GluRs): the ionotropic glutamate receptors (iGluRs) and the metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs), expressed by most/all cells of the nervous system, and also by many non-neural cells in various peripheral organs and tissues. T cells express on their cell surface several types of functional GluRs, and so do few other immune cells. Furthermore, glutamate by itself activates resting normal human T cells, and induces/elevates key T cell functions, among them: T cell adhesion, chemotactic migration, cytokine secretion, gene expression and more. Glutamate has also potent effects on antigen/mitogen/cytokine-activated T cells. Furthermore, T cells can even produce and release glutamate, and affect other cells and themselves via their own glutamate. Multiple sclerosis (MS) and its animal model Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis (EAE) are mediated by autoimmune T cells. In MS and EAE, there are excess glutamate levels, and multiple abnormalities in glutamate degrading enzymes, glutamate transporters, glutamate receptors and glutamate signaling. Some GluR antagonists block EAE. Enhancer of mGluR4 protects from EAE via regulatory T cells (Tregs), while mGluR4 deficiency exacerbates EAE. The protective effect of mGluR4 on EAE calls for testing GluR4 enhancers in MS patients. Oral MS therapeutics, namely Fingolimod, dimethyl fumarate and their respective metabolites Fingolimod-phosphate and monomethyl fumarate, can protect neurons against acute glutamatergic excitotoxic damage. Furthermore, Fingolimod reduce glutamate-mediated intracortical excitability in relapsing-remitting MS. Glatiramer acetate -COPAXONE®, an immunomodulator drug for MS, reverses TNF-α-induced alterations of striatal glutamate-mediated excitatory postsynaptic currents in EAE-afflicted mice. With regard to T cells of MS patients: (1) The cell surface expression of a specific GluR: the AMPA GluR3 is elevated in T cells of MS patients during relapse and with active disease, (2) Glutamate and AMPA (a selective agonist for glutamate/AMPA iGluRs) augment chemotactic migration of T cells of MS patients, (3) Glutamate augments proliferation of T cells of MS patients in response to myelin-derived proteins: MBP and MOG, (4) T cells of MS patients respond abnormally to glutamate, (5) Significantly higher proliferation values in response to glutamate were found in MS patients assessed during relapse, and in those with gadolinium (Gd)+ enhancing lesions on MRI. Furthermore, glutamate released from autoreactive T cells induces excitotoxic cell death of neurons. Taken together, the evidences accumulated thus far indicate that abnormal glutamate levels and signaling in the nervous system, direct activation of T cells by glutamate, and glutamate release by T cells, can all contribute to MS. This may be true also to other neurological diseases. It is postulated herein that the detrimental activation of autoimmune T cells by glutamate in MS could lead to: (1) Cytotoxicity in the CNS: T cell-mediated killing of neurons and glia cells, which would subsequently increase the extracellular glutamate levels, and by doing so increase the excitotoxicity mediated by excess glutamate, (2) Release of proinflammatory cytokines, e.g., TNFα and IFNγ that increase neuroinflammation. Finally, if excess glutamate, abnormal neuronal signaling, glutamate-induced activation of T cells, and glutamate release by T cells are indeed all playing a key detrimental role in MS, then optional therapeutic tolls include GluR antagonists, although these may have various side effects. In addition, an especially attractive therapeutic strategy is the novel and entirely different therapeutic approach to minimize excess glutamate and excitotoxicity, titled: 'brain to blood glutamate scavenging', designed to lower excess glutamate levels in the CNS by 'pumping it out' from the brain to the blood. The glutamate scavanging is achieved by lowering glutamate levels in the blood by intravenous injection of the blood enzyme glutamate oxaloacetate transaminase (GOT). The glutamate-scavenging technology, which is still experimental, validated so far for other brain pathologies, but not tested on MS or EAE yet, may be beneficial for MS too, since it could decrease both the deleterious effects of excess glutamate on neural cells, and the activation of autoimmune T cells by glutamate in the brain. The topic of glutamate scavenging, and also its potential benefit for MS, are discussed towards the end of the review, and call for research in this direction.


Experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis; Glutamate; Glutamate receptors; Multiple sclerosis; Neuroimmunology; Neuroimmunomodulation; T cells

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Springer
Loading ...
Support Center