Novel Aspects of Glutamatergic Signalling in the Neuroendocrine System

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Abstract

L-glutamate, the main excitatory neurotransmitter, influences virtually all neurones of the neuroendocrine hypothalamus via synaptic mechanisms. Vesicular glutamate transporters (VGLUT1–3), which selectively accumulate L-glutamate into synaptic vesicles, provide markers with which to visualise glutamatergic neurones in histological preparations; excitatory neurones in the endocrine hypothalamus synthesise the VGLUT2 isoform. Results of recent dual-label in situ hybridisation studies indicate that glutamatergic neurones in the preoptic area and the hypothalamic paraventricular, supraoptic and periventricular nuclei include parvocellular and magnocellular neurosecretory neurones which secrete peptide neurohormones into the bloodstream to regulate endocrine functions. Neurosecretory terminals of GnRH, TRH, CRF-, somatostatin-, oxytocin- and vasopressin-secreting neurones contain VGLUT2 immunoreactivity, suggesting the co-release of glutamate with hypophysiotrophic peptides. The presence of VGLUT2 also indicates glutamate secretion from non-neuronal endocrine cells, including gonadotrophs and thyrotrophs of the anterior pituitary. Results of in vitro studies show that ionotropic glutamate receptor analogues can elicit hormone secretion at neuroendocrine/endocrine release sites. Structural constituents of the median eminence, adenohypophysis and neurohypophysis contain elements of glutamatergic transmission, including glutamate receptors and enzymes of the glutamate/glutamine cycle. The synthesis of VGLUT2 exhibits robust up-regulation in response to certain endocrine challenges, indicating that altered glutamatergic signalling may represent an important adaptive mechanism. This review article discusses the newly emerged non-synaptic role of glutamate in neuroendocrine and endocrine communication.

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