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Neurotransmitter signaling in white matter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

White matter (WM) tracts are bundles of myelinated axons that provide for rapid communication throughout the CNS and integration in grey matter (GM). The main cells in myelinated tracts are oligodendrocytes and astrocytes, with small populations of microglia and oligodendrocyte precursor cells. The prominence of neurotransmitter signaling in WM, which largely exclude neuronal cell bodies, indicates it must have physiological functions other than neuron-to-neuron communication. A surprising aspect is the diversity of neurotransmitter signaling in WM, with evidence for glutamatergic, purinergic (ATP and adenosine), GABAergic, glycinergic, adrenergic, cholinergic, dopaminergic and serotonergic signaling, acting via a wide range of ionotropic and metabotropic receptors. Both axons and glia are potential sources of neurotransmitters and may express the respective receptors. The physiological functions of neurotransmitter signaling in WM are subject to debate, but glutamate and ATP-mediated signaling have been shown to evoke Ca2+ signals in glia and modulate axonal conduction. Experimental findings support a model of neurotransmitters being released from axons during action potential propagation acting on glial receptors to regulate the homeostatic functions of astrocytes and myelination by oligodendrocytes. Astrocytes also release neurotransmitters, which act on axonal receptors to strengthen action potential propagation, maintaining signaling along potentially long axon tracts. The co-existence of multiple neurotransmitters in WM tracts suggests they may have diverse functions that are important for information processing. Furthermore, the neurotransmitter signaling phenomena described in WM most likely apply to myelinated axons of the cerebral cortex and GM areas, where they are doubtless important for higher cognitive function.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1762-1779
JournalGlia
Volume62
Issue number11
Early online date21 Apr 2014
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014

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