Glutamate Definition in Psychology

What’s the definition of glutamate? Glutamate is an amino acid that plays important roles in memory enhancement, metabolic functions, and brain development.

Depressed woman in the the dark

What is the definition of glutamate? In the field of psychology and neuroscience, glutamate is a strong neurotransmitter produced by your brain’s nerve cells. Its powerful signals play important roles in memory enhancement, metabolic functions, and brain development. Without glutamate, your brain is not able to create reliable memories. In fact, glutamate can be found in food sources such as mushrooms, broccoli, walnuts, soy sauce, peas, ripe tomatoes, as well as cured/preserved/matured food like matured cheeses.

Glutamate is the most copiously-produced excitatory neurotransmitter inside your vertebrate nervous system. It functions as an amino acid (nonessential), meaning, the acid is derived from protein breakdown or essential amino acids. There are 20 amino acids in total in your body, and 12 of which are nonessential. Glycine, tyrosine, and glutamate are some examples of nonessential amino acids. High levels of this amino acid heighten brain function, while low levels of it often lead to brain problems and even mental disorders like schizophrenia, psychosis, or comas. Too much of it, on the other hand, can cause brain damage, seizures, and brain cell death. Glutamine is often mixed up with glutamate. Glutamine functions more like the precursor to glutamate and is a building block in protein. Learn more about the in-depth definition of glutamate and its role for your brain this article.

Definition of Glutamate: What are its Roles? 

The primary function of glutamate is the transmission of information to aid your hardworking brain’s development. This neurotransmitter is usually abundant in production, however, too little or too much can be risky for your overall health. The amount of glutamate and the duration of its process without damage being done to the cells must be exact or it is a risk to good mental health.

Additionally, our bodies use glutamate to create GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, another neurotransmitter that promotes muscle contractions and learning. Following GAD (glutamic decarboxylase), this is the enzyme that turns glutamate into GABA. GABA is that neurotransmitter that also aids in the alleviation of anxiety and promoting good sleep.

Glutamate and Brain Disorders

Glutamate and Brain Disorders 

Glutamate is beneficial to several brain functions. But an excess of it can lead to cognitive decline, disease, and a few neurological disorders. Learn about the common cases below.


A migraine is experienced in the form of consistent and painful headaches. It is a neurovascular disorder caused by a number of factors such as MSG in food (mostly found in Chinese cuisine) to excess production of glutamate.

Research reveals that glutamate is a migraine trigger stemming from the release of this acid from the trigeminal nerve. Levels of blood glutamate were linked to patients suffering from migraines. They can transmit pain in the brain and impede activity. Fortunately, there are drugs that can block glutamate receptors after some clinical studies were performed.

Depression and Suicide

Glutamate production fluctuations have been linked to a number of cases of suicide and depression. Pharmaceutical studies reveal after a study on female patients with depression that they had high levels of glutamate in them.

In fact, more patients that have a major depressive disorder are found to be women. Based on the University of Illinois, this might also be the reason why more women are prone to committing suicide. 

Alzheimer’s Disease

Because glutamate is a central brain neurotransmitter, excessive glutamate becomes harmful as it tends to overstimulate the brain cells that are normally in exact production and are healthy. As a result, brain cells can be severely damaged or lead them to die. More so, glutamate production processes that have been damaged have been associated with memory loss and learning impairments in the degenerative disease.

Together with glutamate, acetylcholine, another neurotransmitter that works muscles and aids in learning and short-term memory, has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease patients. No wonder medications that help in the treatment of this cognitive degenerative illness target neurotransmitters.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Did you know? When you experience trauma in the brain or a stroke, glutamate is then produced excessively. It contributes to damages in your cognitive function. During a traumatic injury in the brain, the leaking blood and brain barriers enable for the glutamate in your blood to pass through the brain. 


Seizures and excess glutamate levels have been linked together. Epileptic seizures are a result of too much electrical activity inside neurons, the central neurotransmitter, glutamate, plays a big role, particularly the mGluR5 receptor.

A study conducted among rats with epilepsy was treated with an agent to reduce mGluR5 which relieved seizures. Finally, elevated glutamate concentration promotes lipopolysaccharide seizures.

Multiple Sclerosis

High glutamate concentration has been associated with multiple sclerosis. It is an illness in the central nervous system that impedes the flow pathway of information. A study conducted by researchers from Yale University performing with MRI discovered high amounts of glutamate in a few types of multiple sclerosis lesions in the brain. 

This indicates that glutamate can promote multiple sclerosis progression and neuronal cell damage or death due to its toxicity. Patients with multiple sclerosis are found to have higher levels of the neurotransmitter in their cerebrospinal fluid during relapses.

Glutamate as a Remedy for Anxiety

We’ve learned that excessive glutamate triggers a handful of illnesses but did you know that studies have revealed glutamate acts as an anxiolytic (anxiety drug) to reduce fear? Anxiety and trauma disorders are a mental health issue especially in the United States and serotonin enhancers to benzodiazepines are usually used to alleviate symptoms.

But more recently, glutamate as a general anxiety disorder remedy is growing more in popularity as its receptors have been found to aid in its treatment. Studies in mice that were given higher amounts of glutamate, were observed to improve. In fact, these glutamatergic drugs can remedy social phobia, OCD’s to  PTSD’s. Future clinical trials of its efficacy. will be conducted to promote its potential. 

The psychological definition of glutamate warrants it as a high-functioning neurotransmitter with a number of significant roles, just take the precaution of your health when there is an excessively lower or higher range of it in your system.

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