Implications of Gliotransmission for the Pharmacotherapy of CNS Disorders

Rossi, Daniela; Martorana, Francesca; Brambilla, Liliana
August 2011
CNS Drugs;2011, Vol. 25 Issue 8, p641
Academic Journal
The seminal discovery that glial cells, particularly astrocytes, can release a number of gliotransmitters that serve as signalling molecules for the crosstalk with neighbouring cellular populations has recently changed our perception of brain functioning, as well as our view of the pathogenesis of several disorders of the CNS. Since glutamate was one of the first gliotransmitters to be identified and characterized, we tackle the mechanisms that underlie its release from astrocytes, including the Ca2+ signals underlying its efflux from astroglia, and we discuss the involvement of these events in a number of relevant physiological processes, from the modulatory control of neighbouring synapses to the regulation of blood supply to cerebral tissues. The relevance of these mechanisms strongly indicates that the contribution of glial cells and gliotransmission to the activities of the brain cannot be overlooked, and any study of CNS physiopathology needs to consider glial biology to have a comprehensive overview of brain function and dysfunction. Abnormalites in the signalling that controls the astrocytic release of glutamate are described in several experimental models of neurological disorders, for example, AIDS dementia complex, Alzheimer's disease and cerebral ischaemia. While the modalities of glutamate release from astrocytes remain poorly understood, and this represents a major impediment to the definition of novel therapeutic strategies targeting this process at the molecular level, some key mediators deputed to the control of the glial release of this excitatory amino acid have been identified. Among these, we can mention, for instance, proinflammatory cytokines, such as tumour necrosis factor-&agr;, and prostaglandins. Agents that are able to block the major steps of tumour necrosis factor-a and prostaglandin production and/or signalling can be proposed as novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of these disorders.


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