* To whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received November 22, 1999
This review examines interactions in the mammalian central nervous system (CNS) between carnosine and the endogenous transition metals zinc and copper. Although the relationship between these substances may be applicable to other brain regions, the focus is on the olfactory system where these substances may have special significance. Carnosine is not only highly concentrated in the olfactory system, but it is also contained in neurons (in contrast to glia cells in most of the brain) and has many features of a neurotransmitter. Whereas the function of carnosine in the CNS is not well understood, we review evidence that suggests that it may act as both a neuromodulator and a neuroprotective agent. Although zinc and/or copper are found in many neuronal pathways in the brain, the concentrations of zinc and copper in the olfactory bulb (the target of afferent input from sensory neurons in the nose) are among the highest in the CNS. Included in the multitude of physiological roles that zinc and copper play in the CNS is modulation of neuronal excitability. However, zinc and copper also have been implicated in a variety of neurologic conditions including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, stroke, and seizures. Here we review the modulatory effects that carnosine can have on zinc and copper's abilities to influence neuronal excitability and to exert neurotoxic effects in the olfactory system. Other aspects of carnosine in the CNS are reviewed elsewhere in this issue.
KEY WORDS: carnosine, zinc, copper, glutamate receptors, synaptic transmission, tissue culture, electrophysiology, neuromodulation, neurotoxicity, olfactory system, olfactory bulb, rat, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease