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What are glutamate receptors?

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Quick Answer

Glutamate receptors are specialized structures within cells, especially nerve cells, that are able to recognize and respond to the presence of the chemical glutamate. Glutamate is an amino acid that is used in cell-to-cell communication.

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Full Answer

Nerve cells pass chemical signals between each other over a system of tendrils separated by tiny gaps. Glutamate receptors are found on the axons, or receiving tendrils, of nerve cells. Nerve cells use glutamate to tell adjacent cells to signal. This helps spread messages along nerves and within the brain.

Even though glutamate is the most prevalent signaling molecule in the human nervous system, the chemical itself is toxic. Excessive glutamate can kill nerve cells. Cell death linked to excessive glutamate is implicated in the paralyzing disorder amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

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