Mental Mysteries: The Role of Glutamate in Brain Diseases
You would not be able to read this sentence without the help of glutamate flowing from neuron to neuron inside your brain. In fact, if it weren’t for this neurotransmitter, you wouldn’t be able to do much at all: glutamatergic neurotransmission is involved in most everything you do, from trying to remember a fact to planning what you’re going to do next, not to mention processing information from your senses and regulating your mood. It is also involved in many things we’d rather not have, including most psychiatric and neurological diseases.
Given all that, it would be reasonable to assume that glutamatergic neurons are some of the best understood parts of the brain. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Unlike other neurotransmitters, which leave tell-tale signs, we lack such biomarkers for glutamatergic neurotransmission. As Canada Research Chair in Neurobiology, Dr. Salah El Mestikawy has spent a decade searching for these elusive biomarkers, and now, having helped discover many of them, he is in a position to help us unlock one of the biggest mysteries of our mind and, in the process, transform how we treat many psychiatric or neurological diseases.
Much like a computer operating system, our brain responds to “yes” or “no” signals. These signals, carried by neurotransmitters, either excite or inhibit neurons. The fast-moving excitatory system is the main player in the brain, with glutamate acting as the main messenger. El Mestikawy and his team will study this system, first pursuing a general understanding of it, then analyzing the role of glutamatergic neurons in the human pathological brain and, finally, developing new diagnostic and therapeutic procedures that target glutamatergic neurons. Through his research program, El Mestikawy will help solve one of the great mysteries of our central nervous system, a discovery that might lead to entirely new ways to treat neurological and psychiatric diseases.