Amino acids as the source of considerable excitation in cerebral cortex

T. P. Hicks, F. Conti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A number of different factors contributed to the rationale for providing a critical review of the field of excitatory amino acids in the cerebral cortex at this time. In addition to the recent growing realisation by clinicians that the excitatory amino acids are linked critically to a number of neurological conditions, including neurodegenerative syndromes such as Alzheimer's disease, cortical damage due to stroke and cerebral ischemia, epilepsy, amyotropic lateral sclerosis, and schizophrenia, the recent cloning and membrane reconstitution of specific receptors known as AMPA, NMDA, kainate, and metabotropic receptors and their known subunits have prompted a surge of renewed interest in this important family of synaptic transmitter molecules. Moreover, recent advances in our understanding of the molecular events involved in growth promotion in the early stages of the development of the cortex have shown that both NMDA and non-NMDA receptor subtypes perform important roles in certain aspects of target selection and neurite outgrowth, in cone stimulation and guidance, and in spine formation and morphological alterations. A recent explosive growth in interest in the possible roles of nitric oxide and related short-lived radicals in plasticity, disease, and synaptic transmission also is related closely with the actions of excitatory amino acids. All these relatively new advances have transpired in parallel with ongoing work that has extended our appreciation for the roles of excitatory amino acids in the areas of synaptic plasticity (long-term potentiation, long-term depression, receptive field reorganisation following drug-induced or peripheral sensory disturbances, such as denervation or amputation), in processes of normal transmission at functionally and electrophysiologically identified neurones of the cerebral cortex, and in distinct proposed roles for cortical glia. A greater appreciation of the diverse types and properties of the burgeoning family of receptors for the metabotropic receptor also contributed to our desire to feature that aspect of the field in the context of glia and neurones of the cerebral cortex. That part of the field of neuroscience concerned with the functions of excitatory amino acids has grown so large over the past 10 years or so, that a review paper focusing on the contributions to a specialized meeting devoted solely to cerebral cortex could easily be supported by material comprising a sufficient body of communications from top-quality research laboratories. The present account endeavours to summarize and discuss the biochemical characteristics, physiological roles, pharmacological properties, clinical relevance, developmental involvements, and anatomical-morphological aspects pertaining to the excitatory amino acid transmitters in cerebral cortex.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-361
Number of pages21
JournalCanadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1996


  • AMPA
  • Aspartate
  • Excitatory amino acids
  • Glutamate
  • Kainate
  • Metabotropic receptors
  • NMDA
  • NMDA receptors
  • Non-NMDA receptors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Pharmacology


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