Glutamic acid is an ɑ-amino acid that is used in the biosynthesis of proteins. In neuroscience, its carboxylate anion glutamate is an important excitatory neurotransmitter that plays the principal role in neural activation.
Glutamate is the most abundant excitatory neurotransmitter in the vertebrate nervous system. At chemical synapses, glutamate is stored in vesicles. Nerve impulses trigger release of glutamate from the presynaptic cell. Glutamate acts on ionotropic and metabotropic (G-protein coupled) receptors. In the opposing postsynaptic cell, glutamate receptors, such as the NMDA receptor or the AMPA receptor, bind glutamate and are activated. Because of its role in synaptic plasticity, glutamate is involved in cognitive functions such as learning and memory in the brain.
Glutamate works not only as a point-to-point transmitter, but also through spill-over synaptic crosstalk between synapses in which summation of glutamate released from a neighboring synapse creates extrasynaptic signaling/volume transmission.
Glutamate also serves as the precursor for the synthesis of the inhibitory gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in GABA-ergic neurons. This reaction is catalyzed by glutamate decarboxylase (GAD), which is most abundant in the cerebellum and pancreas.