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REVIEW: Carnosine-Related Dipeptides in Neurons and Glia

S. De Marchis1, C. Modena1, P. Peretto1, A. Migheli2, F. L. Margolis3, and A. Fasolo1*

1Dipartimento di Biologia Animale e dell'Uomo, Universita' di Torino, Torino, Italy; fax: ++39-011-8124824; E-mail: fasolo@dba.unito.it

2Dipartimento di Neuroscienze, Universita' di Torino, Torino, Italy

3Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

* To whom correspondence should be addressed.

Received October 28, 1999
Carnosine-related dipeptides have been demonstrated to occur in the nervous tissue of many vertebrates, including humans. Although several hypotheses have been formulated, to date their precise physiological role in the nervous system remains unknown. This article will review the studies on the presence and distribution of these dipeptides in the nervous system of different classes of vertebrates. It will focus on the most recent data on their cellular localization and potential functions in mammals. The studies on localization of carnosine-related dipeptides show a complex pattern of expression that involves both neuronal and glial cell types. The glial localization, widely distributed throughout the whole brain and spinal cord, includes a subset of both mature astrocytes and oligodendrocytes, whereas the neuronal localization is restricted to a particular type of neurons (the olfactory receptor neurons), and to restricted populations of putative migrating neurons and neuroblasts. There is no definitive demonstration of the function of these dipeptides in the various cell types. However, a wide array of evidence suggests that carnosine-related dipeptides could act as natural protective agents. Moreover, recent studies have suggested that, as previously postulated for the olfactory receptor neurons, in mature functional glial cells as well, carnosine-related dipeptides could be implicated in a neuromodulatory functional mechanism.
KEY WORDS: carnosine, carnosine-related compounds, mammalian nervous system, neurons, glia, olfactory bulb