The mysterious trace amines: Protean neuromodulators of synaptic transmission in mammalian brain

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Abstract

The trace amines are a structurally related group of amines and their isomers synthesized in mammalian brain and peripheral nervous tissues. They are closely associated metabolically with the dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin neurotransmitter systems in mammalian brain. Like dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin the trace amines have been implicated in a vast array of human disorders of affect and cognition. The trace amines are unique as they are present in trace concentrations, exhibit high rates of metabolism and are distributed heterogeneously in mammalian brain. While some are synthesized in their parent amine neurotransmitter systems, there is also evidence to suggest other trace amines may comprise their own independent neurotransmitter systems. A substantial body of evidence suggests that the trace amines may play very significant roles in the coordination of biogenic amine-based synaptic physiology. At high concentrations, they have well-characterized presynaptic “amphetamine-like” effects on catecholamine and indolamine release, reuptake and biosynthesis; at lower concentrations, they possess postsynaptic modulatory effects that potentiate the activity of other neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine and serotonin. The trace amines also possess electrophysiological effects that are in opposition to these neurotransmitters, indicating to some researchers the existence of receptors specific for the trace amines. While binding sites or receptors for a few of the trace amines have been advanced, the absence of cloned receptor protein has impeded significant development of their detailed mechanistic roles in the coordination of catecholamine and indolamine synaptic physiology. The recent discovery and characterization of a family of mammalian G protein-coupled receptors responsive to trace amines such as β-phenylethylamine, tyramine, and octopamine, including socially ingested psychotropic drugs such as amphetamine, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, N,N-dimethyltryptamine, and lysergic acid diethylamide, have revitalized the field of scientific studies investigating trace amine synaptic physiology, and its association with major human disorders of affect and cognition.

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