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Neurochem Int. 2008 Mar-Apr;52(4-5):809-25. Epub 2007 Oct 2.

Proposed cycles for functional glutamate trafficking in synaptic neurotransmission.

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Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06510, USA.


To date, the glutamate-glutamine cycle has been the dominant paradigm for understanding the coordinated, compartmentalized activities of phosphate-activated glutaminase (PAG) and glutamine synthetase (GS) in support of functional glutamate trafficking in vivo. However, studies in cell cultures have repeatedly challenged the notion that functional glutamate trafficking is accomplished via the glutamate-glutamine cycle alone. The present study introduces and elaborates alternative cycles for functional glutamate trafficking that integrate glucose metabolism, glutamate anabolism, transport, and catabolism, and trafficking of TCA cycle intermediates from astrocytes to presynaptic neurons. Detailed stoichiometry for each of these alternative cycles is established by strict application of the principle of conservation of atomic species to cytosolic and mitochondrial compartments in both presynaptic neurons and astrocytes. In contrast to the glutamate-glutamine cycle, which requires ATP, but not necessarily oxidative metabolism, to function, cycles for functional glutamate trafficking based on intercellular transport of TCA cycle intermediates require oxidative processes to function. These proposed alternative cycles are energetically more efficient than, and incorporate an inherent mechanism for transporting nitrogen from presynaptic neurons to astrocytes in support of the coordinated activities of PAG and GS that is absent in, the glutamate-glutamine cycle. In light of these newly elaborated alternative cycles, it is premature to presuppose that functional glutamate trafficking in synaptic neurotransmission in vivo is sustained by the glutamate-glutamine cycle alone.

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