All the brain's a stage for serotonin: the forgotten story of serotonin diffusion across cell membranes Journal Articles uri icon

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  • In the conventional model of serotonin neurotransmission, serotonin released by neurons in the midbrain raphe nuclei exerts its actions on forebrain neurons by interacting with a large family of post-synaptic receptors. The actions of serotonin are terminated by active transport of serotonin back into the releasing neuron, which is mediated by the serotonin reuptake transporter (SERT). Because SERT is expressed pre-synaptically and is widely thought to be the only serotonin transporter in the forebrain, the conventional model does not include serotonin transport into post-synaptic neurons. However, a large body of evidence accumulating since the 1970s has shown that serotonin, despite having a positive charge, can cross cell membranes through a diffusion-like process. Multiple low-affinity, high-capacity, sodium-independent transporters, widely expressed in the brain, allow the carrier-mediated diffusion of serotonin into forebrain neurons. The amount of serotonin crossing cell membranes through this mechanism under physiological conditions is considerable. Most prominent textbooks fail to include this alternative method of serotonin uptake in the brain, and even most neuroscientists are unaware of it. This failure has limited our understanding of a key regulator of serotonergic neurotransmission, impeded research on the potential intracellular actions of serotonin in post-synaptic neurons and glial cells, and may have impeded our understanding of the mechanism by which antidepressant medications reduce depressive symptoms.


  • Andrews, Paul William
  • Bosyj, Catherine
  • Brenton, Luke
  • Green, Laura
  • Gasser, Paul J
  • Lowry, Christopher A
  • Pickel, Virginia M

publication date

  • November 9, 2022