In addition to being used as building blocks for protein synthesis, amino acids play many other important physiological functions. One is undoubtedly the fact that there are several amino acids that play neurotransmitter functions:
- Glutamate is the main excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It plays central roles in terms of rapid nerve transmission (i.e. rapid response to a stimulus), cognition, memory, movement and sensation. It is recognized by two classes of receptors: ionotropic receptors, which are receptors that when activated allow ion flow across the membrane; and metabotropic receptors, which when activated stimulate the production of secondary messengers.
- Aspartate, it is also an excitatory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system. Due to biochemical similarities between glutamate and aspartate (more on this subject here), the actuation mechanism and effects are identical between them (although glutamate is, from a quantitative point of view, more important than aspartate).
- Glycine is the simplest amino acid, and has inhibitory functions in the central nervous system, with particular emphasis on the spinal cord, brain stem and in the retina. In addition to its role as a neurotransmitter, it also plays immunomodulatory functions, anti-inflammatory and cytoprotection (cell protection). The activation of its receptors allows influx of chloride ion.