Nature Reviews Neuroscience 13, 94-106 (February 2012) | doi:10.1038/nrn3154

Activity-dependent neurotransmitter respecification

Nicholas C. Spitzer1  About the author


For many years it has been assumed that the identity of the transmitters expressed by neurons is stable and unchanging. Recent work, however, shows that electrical activity can respecify neurotransmitter expression during development and in the mature nervous system, and an understanding is emerging of the molecular mechanisms underlying activity-dependent transmitter respecification. Changes in postsynaptic neurotransmitter receptor expression accompany and match changes in transmitter specification, thus enabling synaptic transmission. The functional roles of neurotransmitter respecification are beginning to be understood and appear to involve homeostatic synaptic regulation, which in turn influences behaviour. Activation of this novel form of plasticity by sensorimotor stimuli may provide clinical benefits.

Author affiliations

  1. Neurobiology Section, Division of Biological Sciences, Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093, USA.

Correspondence to: Nicholas C. Spitzer1 Email:

Published online 18 January 2012