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Epilepsia. 2002 Jul;43(7):703-10.

Glutamate-glutamine cycling in the epileptic human hippocampus.

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Department of Neurology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8018, USA.



Several findings suggest that energy metabolism and the glutamate-glutamine cycle may be impaired in epilepsy. Positron emission tomography often shows interictal hypometabolism of the epileptogenic hippocampus. In vivo microdialysis studies show that seizure-associated glutamate release is doubled, and clearance is slowed. We hypothesized that the glutamate-glutamine cycle between neurons and glia may be decreased in the epileptic human hippocampus.


A 20% solution of 2-13C-glucose was infused before resection of the epileptogenic hippocampus. Blood glucose isotopic fractions were measured every 30 min. Blood and brain specimens were frozen quickly; perchloric acid extracts of the small metabolites were prepared and analyzed by proton and carbon magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) at 11.75 Tesla.


Standard histology showed 12 with hippocampal sclerosis and five with minimal neuron loss. The relative rates of glutamate-glutamine cycling with respect to glutamate synthesis were decreased in biopsies affected by hippocampal sclerosis (mean, 0.08; 95% confidence interval, 0.04-0.12) compared with those with minimal neuron loss (0.52; 95% CI, 0.30-0.75). Mean cellular glutamate concentrations were higher in minimal neuron loss (8.9 mM; 95% CI, 7.4-10.4) than hippocampal sclerosis (7.3 mM; 95% CI, 5.9-8.7). Cellular glutamine concentrations (mean, 2.8 mM; 95% CI, 2.4-3.2; n = 17) were the same in all groups.


The epileptogenic, gliotic human hippocampus appears to be characterized metabolically by slow rates of glutamate-glutamine cycling, decreased glutamine content, and a relative increase in glutamate content. We hypothesize that the low rate of glutamate-glutamine cycling that results from a failure of glial glutamate detoxification could account for slow glutamate clearance from synapses and continuing low-grade excitotoxicity.

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