Glutamate and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are the dominant amino acids in the retina and brain. The manufacturing and degradation pathways of both of these amino acids are intricately linked with the tricarboxylic acid cycle leading to rapid redistribution of these amino acids after metabolic insult. Postmortem ischemia in mammalian retina predominantly results in a loss of glutamate and GABA from neurons and accumulation of these amino acids within Müller cells. This accumulation of glutamate and GABA in Müller cells may occur as a result of increased release of these neurotransmitters from neurons, and decreased degradation. Quantification of the semisaturation value (half-maximal response) for glutamate and GABA Müller cell loading during postmortem ischemia indicated a shorter semisaturation value for GABA than glutamate. Such changes are consistent with a single aerobically dependent GABA-degradation pathway, and the existence of multiple glutamate-degradation pathways. Comparison with the in vitro ischemic model showed similar qualitative characteristics, but a markedly increased semisaturation time for glutamate and GABA Müller cell loading (a factor of 5–10) in the postmortem ischemia model. We interpret these differences to indicate that the in vitro condition provides a more immediate and/or severe ischemic insult. In the postmortem ischemia model, the delayed glial cell loading implies the availability of internal stores of both glucose and/or oxygen. Increased glial and neuronal immunoreactivity for the amino acids involved in transamination reactions, aspartate, alanine, leucine, and ornithine was observed, indicating a potential shift in the equilibrium of transamination reactions associated with glutamate production. These findings provide evidence that, in the rat retina, there are multiple pathways subserving glutamate production/degradation that include a multitude of transamination reactions. Further evidence is therefore provided to support a role for all four amino acids in glutamate metabolism within a variety of retinal neurons and glia.
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