Head Lines; June/July 2008; Scientific American Mind; by "Susannah F. Locke, Katherine Leitzell, Nicole Branan, JR Minkel, Lucas Laursen, Peter Sergo, Melinda Wenner, Victoria Stern, Christopher Intagliata, Melissa Mahony, Jane N. Kim, Lisa Conti, Rachel Mahan; 9 Page(s)
Antidepressants such as Prozac made serotonin a household word, and cocaine studies transformed dopamine into a synonym for pleasure. Now glutamate may finally find its fame, thanks to a new schizophrenia drug¿the first ever to target this abundant neurotransmitter. The drug could usher in an era of better treatments for neurological ailments, including mood disorders, Alzheimer¿s, Parkinson¿s and brain damage from stroke.
Until now, clinical efforts to alter glutamate levels have failed because tinkering with this essential neurotransmitter, which excites neurons, is tricky. High concentrations of glutamate can trigger seizures or kill brain cells¿and levels that dip too low can cause coma. The new agent avoids these dangers by binding only to a subset of glutamate receptors that have more nuanced effects on neurons. Researchers think it may work for schizophrenia by decreasing the abnormally high glutamate levels in certain brain areas that are associated with the disease. Restoring the glutamate balance could then reduce excessive amounts of dopamine, another key player in the disease, in a psychosis-related neuronal pathway.