1058 Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry, 2011, 11, 1058-1067
1568-0266/11 $58.00+.00 © 2011 Bentham Science Publishers Ltd.
Uridine Function in the Central Nervous System
Arpád Dobolyi1,*, Gábor Juhász2, Zsolt Kovács3 and Julianna Kardos4
1Neuromorphological and Neuroendocrine Research Laboratory, Department of Anatomy, Histology and Embryology,
Semmelweis University and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, H-1094 Budapest, Hungary; 2Laboratory of Pro-
teomics, Institute of Biology, Eötvös Loránd University, H-1117 Budapest, Hungary; 3Department of Zoology, Univer-
sity of West Hungary, Savaria Campus, Szombathely, Hungary; 4Department of Neurochemistry, Institute of Biomolecu-
lar Chemistry, Chemical Research Center, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, H-1025 Budapest, Hungary
Abstract: In the adult nervous system, the major source of nucleotide synthesis is the salvage pathway. Uridine is the ma-
jor form of pyrimidine nucleosides taken up by the brain. Uridine is phosphorylated to nucleotides, which are used for
DNA and RNA synthesis as well as for the synthesis of membrane constituents and glycosylation. Uridine nucleotides and
UDP-sugars may be released from neuronal and glial cells. Plasmamembrane receptors of 7 transmembrane domains have
been identified that recognize UTP, UDP, and UDP-sugar conjugates. These receptors are called P2Y2 and P2Y4, P2Y6,
and P2Y14 receptors, respectively. In addition, binding sites for uridine itself have also been suggested. Furthermore,
uridine administration had sleep-promoting and anti-epileptic actions, improved memory function and affected neuronal
plasticity. Information only starts to be accumulating on potential mechanisms of these uridine actions. Some data are
available on the topographical distribution of pyrimidine receptors and binding sites in the brain, however, their exact role
in neuronal functions is not established yet. There is also a scarcity of data regarding the brain distribution of other com-
ponents of the pyrimidine metabolism although site specific functions exerted by their receptors might require different
metabolic support. Despite the gaps in our knowledge on the neuronal functions of pyrimidine nucleosides, their therapeu-
tic utilization is appealing. They have been suggested for the treatment of epileptic and neurodegenerative diseases as neu-
roprotective agents. In addition, the development of traditional drugs acting specifically on pyrimidine receptor subtypes
is also promising as a new direction to treat neurological disorders.
Keywords: Epilepsy, neural function, neuronal plasticity, nucleoside transport, nucleotide receptor, pyrimidine salvage, sleep,
the brain. It supplies nervous tissue with the pyrimidine ring,
and in turn, participates in a number of important metabolic
pathways. Uridine and its nucleotide derivatives may also
have an additional role in the function of the central nervous
system as signaling molecules. There are established signal-
ing molecules in the brain, such as amino acids, and adeno-
sine, which are also available in large pools as metabolites.
Adenosine is not a typical neuronal signaling molecule since
it is not released from synapses on an action potential trig-
ger. Rather, it is produced with the extracellular degradation
of ATP or is released via nucleoside transporters [1, 2],
which are not highly specific to any particular nucleoside .
In contrast to adenosine, the neuromodulator role of uridine
is not established yet with certainty. However, an increasing
body of evidence suggests that uridine participates in the
control of physiological and pathophysiological brain func-
tions. This review is an attempt to summarize the available
data supporting that uridine plays a role in neuronal func-
tions by collecting information from the literature about the
potential mechanisms behind its putative neuromodulator
Uridine has crucial role in the pyrimidine metabolism of
*Address correspondence to this author at the Laboratory of Neuromorphol-
ogy, Department of Anatomy, Histology and Embryology, Semmelweis
University, Tüzolto u. 58, Budapest, H-1094, Hungary;
Tel: +36-1-215-6920 / 53634; Fax: +36-1-218-1612;
function. Transport of uridine as well as its metabolism in
brain cells is summarized and we also refer to excellent re-
cent reviews on this topic [4, 5]. Finally, the potential thera-
peutic applications of uridine are discussed.
SOURCE OF PYRIMIDINES IN THE CENTRAL
from the intestine in the form of nucleosides after degrada-
tion from nucleic acids and nucleotides . As opposed to
purines that are further degraded in intestinal epithelial cells
to uric acid and pentose moiety, a portion of uridine is trans-
ported in the plasma [4, 7]. The liver plays a pivotal role in
purine and pyrimidine metabolism because virtually all of
the nucleosides in the blood stream derive from their secre-
tion from the liver following de novo nucleoside synthesis to
keep a steady level of nucleosides in the plasma [8, 9]. There
are species differences in the plasma levels of pyrimidines.
In human and gerbil, uridine is the predominant form due to
cytidine deaminase activity in plasma, while in rats the
plasma concentration of cytidine is higher . Although a
low level of do novo pyrimidine synthesis has been demon-
strated in the brain , most of the pyrimidine content of
the brain is supplied by the uptake of pyrimidine nucleo-
sides, particularly uridine from the plasma , which is
required for the maintenance of electrophysiological activity
in the brain . There are 4 genes encoding the equilibra-
The purine and pyrimidine bases are mostly absorbed
Brain Function of Uridine Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 8 1059
tive (ENT1-4) and 3 genes encoding the Na+-dependent con-
centrative (CNT1-3) nucleoside transporters [3, 5]. Brain
endothelial cells contain ENT1, ENT2 and CNT2 while
choroid plexus epithelial cells also express CNT3 . In the
human choroid plexus, ENT2 and CNT3 are dominant .
In brain endothelial cells, CNT2 and ENT2 are present on
the cell surface facing the interstitial fluid. In the choroid
plexus, CNTs are present on the surface facing the cerebro-
spinal fluid. The opposite cell surfaces contain only equili-
brative transporters . These transporters can all transport
uridine (as well as purines) and are responsible for the trans-
port of uridine in and out of the brain . Since the affinity
of CNT2 is higher for uridine than cytidine [15, 16], the main
form of pyrimidine uptake into the brain is uridine even in
species like rat where plasma cytidine level is relatively high
Neurons and glial cells also take up uridine from the ex-
tracellular space via equilibrative and concentrative nucleo-
side transporters. Investigation of the topographical and cel-
lular distribution of the nucleoside transporters has started
recently and initial results suggest differences in the localiza-
tion of different types of transporters within the brain [18-
21]. Spatial differences in the uptake process may result in
differences in the local extracellular concentration of uridine,
which has been reported to be lower in the thalamic extracel-
lular space than in the cerebrospinal fluid [22, 23]. Uridine
tissue levels also show uneven spatial distributions in the
brain [24, 25] and depend on gender and age as well .
Uridine transport may also be affected by the activity of a
particular brain region as extracellular uridine levels in-
creased following pharmacological depolarization [27, 28]
and experimentally induced epilepsy [29, 30].
URIDINE METABOLISM IN THE BRAIN
synthesis Fig. (1). This enzyme as well as subsequent
uridine-phosphorylating enzymes are of low affinity, and
therefore unsaturated with their substrates. Consequently,
providing the brain with uridine increases its formation and
levels of UTP . On the other hand, uridine kinase is inhib-
ited by UTP and CTP, the final products of the pyrimidine
salvage pathway. Thus, at relatively low UTP and CTP level,
uridine is mainly anabolized to uridine nucleotides. In con-
trast, at relatively high UTP and CTP levels the inhibition of
uridine kinase channels uridine towards phosphorolysis. The
ribose-1-phosphate is then transformed into phosphoribo-
sylpyrophosphate (PRPP), which is used for purine salvage
UTP can be aminated to CTP by CTP synthetase. This
metabolic sequence explains how the brain gets CTP – to use
in the Kennedy Cycle – even in species like humans, in
which cytidine level is low in the circulation. UTP and CTP
are both required for the formation of RNA Fig. (1). CTP
also provides CDP-choline and CDP-ethanolamine for mem-
brane formation [32, 33]. Uridine nucleotides can also be
used for the synthesis of dUTP, which is further processed to
dTTP for DNA synthesis. dUTP pyrophosphatase is a key
enzyme of dTTP formation and also serves to prevent the
incorporation of dUTP into DNA . Another important
metabolic function of UTP is to serve as an intermediate for
Uridine kinase catalyzes the first step of UTP salvage
sugar conjugates such as UDP-glucose and UDP-galactose
(UDP-sugars), which are in turn further metabolized for gly-
cogen synthesis  or enter the endoplasmic reticulum (ER)
for protein and lipid glycosylation . Relatively recently,
an additional function of UTP, UDP, and UDP-sugars was
revealed. These uridine derivatives are released into the ex-
tracellular space where they act on specific plasmamembrane
receptors [37-40]. Considering these important roles of
uridine in the neuronal metabolism, it is not surprising that
deficiencies in uridine metabolism or its pharmacological
alterations can lead to neurological symptomes .
Fig. (1). Schematic diagram of the metabolic pathways of uridine in
Abbreviations: CDP - cytidine-5'-diphosphate; CTP - cytidine-5'-
triphosphate; dCTP - deoxycytidine-5'-triphosphate; dTTP - de-
triphosphate; ER, endoplasmic reticulum; UDP - uridine-5'-
diphosphate; UMP - uridine-5'-monophosphate; Ura - uracil; Urd -
uridine; UTP - uridine-5'-triphosphate. Key enzymes are shown by
numbers: 1 - Uridine kinase; 2 – UMP kinase; 3 – ribonucleotide
reductase; 4 - dUTP pyrophosphatase; 5 - CTP synthetase.
dUTP - deoxyuridine-5'-
NEURAL ACTIONS OF URIDINE
have been suggested. In this chapter, we summarize the find-
ings that support the neural actions of uridine.
Several different effects of uridine on the nervous system
The Effect of Uridine on Sleep
promoting substance purified from the brainstem of sleep-
deprived rats [42, 43]. A 10-h intracerebroventricular infu-
sion of 10 pmol of uridine increased slow wave sleep as well
as paradoxical sleep due to increases in the frequencies of
sleep episodes but not to their durations . Intraperito-
neally injected uridine resulted in a dose-dependent transient
excess of slow-wave sleep if administered shortly before
onset of the dark period. The sleep latency was remarkably
shortened . A brain area in the preoptic region of the hy-
pothalamus, the so-called ventrolateral preoptic nucleus was
described as a sleep center . Interestingly, localized elec-
trolytic lesions made bilaterally in the lateral preoptic area in
rats eliminated the slow wave sleep-promoting effect of
uridine  suggesting that the integrity of preoptic sleep
Uridine was identified as an active component of sleep-
1060 Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 8
Dobolyi et al.
centers is crucial for slow wave sleep-promoting action of
Uridine in Epilepsy Models
some decades ago as uridine reduced penicillin- [48, 49],
pentylenetetrazole- , and electroconvulsion-induced 
seizures in experimental rodent models of epilepsy. In more
recent experiments, uridine was found to be antiepilepto-
genic in hippocampal kindling models [52, 53]. Uridine de-
creased kindling rates and afterdischarge durations in rats
. On the other hand, uridine did not protect against elec-
troshock-induced convulsions . The inconsistent anticon-
vulsant effect of uridine in different seizure models from
different laboratories may reflect the different amount and
dosing applied. For example, three-times-daily intraperito-
neal injections of 200 mg / kg uridine reduced kindling rates
in rats but once-daily administration was without effect .
An anti-convulsant effect of uridine has been suggested
Thermoregulatory Effects of Uridine
hypothermia of 6-10 degrees C in mice and rats . In con-
trast, low dose of uridine resulted in a slight increase in tem-
perature in rodents . The hypothermia might be related to
breakdown products of uridine, since inhibition of uridine
breakdown partially prevented hypothermia and since in
brain uracil nucleotide levels were only slightly increased
after uridine administration, while those of uracil were more
markedly increased than in other tissues. . Interestingly,
in human and rabbit, high dose of uridine induced fever .
The change in body temperature associated with uridine ad-
ministration was not due to bacterial pyrogens but that one of
the degradation products might be involved in thermoregula-
Administration of high-dose uridine resulted in severe
Evidence for Mood Altering Effects of Uridine
avoidance responding in rats. While uridine itself does not
affect animals' performance in this model, uridine signifi-
cantly potentiated the disruption of avoidance and avoidance
latency induced by the neuroleptic haloperidol, a known do-
pamin receptor antagonist when coadministered with it .
Chronic uridine adminstration also increased in the stereo-
typy scores and the catalepsy induced by acute haloperidol
injection . Haloperidol-induced  and potassium-
induced striatal dopamine release was potentiated . The
effect of uridine on haloperidol-evoked neural changes may
be related to the dopaminerg actions of haloperidol because
uridine itself was shown to affect brain dopaminerg systems.
In activity tests, uridine-treated rats exhibited a significant
increase in the sensitivity to amphetamine . Uridine also
potentiated the amphetamine and cocaine-induced rotation in
rats with unilateral dopaminergic lesions . Furthermore,
chronic uridine treatment reduced the level of dopamine re-
ceptors and enhanced their turnover rate in the striatum 
and might affect the dopamine-dependent prolactin release
. In addition to potentiating the action of anti-psychotic
drugs, uridine was also suggested to have anxyolitic activity
as well [62, 63].
Neuroleptic drugs induce disruption of conditioned
The Effect of Uridine on Memory
to increased uridine improves certain types of memory func-
tion. Rats were assessed for learning and memory skills us-
ing 2 versions of the Morris water maze, the hidden platform
version that assesses hippocampal-dependent cognitive
memory processing, and the visible platform version that
assesses striatal-dependent habit memory [64-66]. Chronic,
but not acute, dietary supplementation with CDP-choline
prevented hippocampal-dependent, memory deficits in aged
rats and by younger rats reared under impoverished envi-
ronmental conditions but did not affect striatal-dependent
learning and memory [64, 65]. In rats, dietary CDP-choline is
rapidly metabolized into cytidine and choline, the cytidine is
then readily converted to uridine, which enters the brain .
To confirm that uridine is the compound to affect memory
function, a diet supplemented with the uridine source
uridine-5'-monophosphate (UMP) was tested similar to the
CDP-choline administration. Indeed, UMP was similarly
effective to alleviate memory dysfunction tested by Morris
water maze as CDP-choline . Increasing uridine levels by
dietary UMP administration also improved the performance
in gerbils in memory tests using the four-arm radial maze, T-
maze, and Y-maze tests . Similar to animal studies, in-
creased uridine formation may have been the mediator of the
positive effects of CDP-choline on verbal memory in aging
human individuals with relatively inefficient memories .
Accumulating evidence suggest that long-term exposure
The Effect of Uridine on Neuronal Plasticity
tion of neuronal plasticity came from experiments demon-
strating that it enhances neurite outgrowth in PC12 rat pheo-
chromocytoma cells. PC12 cells were differentiated by nerve
growth factor and exposed to various concentrations of
uridine. After 4 but not 2 days uridine significantly and dose-
dependently increased the number of neurites per cell. This
increase was accompanied by increases in neurite branching
and in levels of the neurite proteins neurofilament M and
neurofilament 70 . In subsequent experiments, gerbils
received a diet containing UMP as uridine source daily for 4
weeks. This treatment significantly increased the amount of
presynaptic protein synapsin-1, postsynaptic protein PSD-95
and neurite neurofibrillar proteins NF-70 and NF-M [71-73].
In contrast, elevated uridine level had no effect on the cy-
toskeletal protein beta-tubulin . In addition, dietary ad-
ministration of UMP together with the omega-3 fatty acid
docosahexaenoic acid substantially increased the number of
dendritic spines in adult gerbil hippocampus. This increase
in dendritic spines was accompanied by parallel increases in
membrane phosphatides and in pre- and post-synaptic pro-
teins within the adult hippocampus . These actions of
elevated uridine levels in the brain on the level of synaptic
proteins and the number of dendritic spines were also de-
scribed during development. When dams consumed UMP for
10 days before parturition and 20 days while nursing, the
brains of weanlings exhibited significant increases in mem-
brane phosphatides, various pre- and postsynaptic proteins
and in hippocampal dendritic spine densities [75, 76]. These
data suggest that chronic uridine treatment promotes synap-
togenesis at least in certain parts of the developing as well as
the adult rodent brain [72, 77, 78]. To demonstrate the rele-
The first clue that uridine may be involved in the regula-
Brain Function of Uridine Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 8 1061
vance of uridine in the regulation of synaptic function, the
effect of oral administration of the uridine source uridine-5'-
monophosphate (UMP) was investigated on the release of
the neurotransmitters dopamine and acetyl-choline (ACh).
Potassium-evoked dopamine release measured by in vivo
brain microdialysis in the striatum was significantly greater
among chronically UMP-treated rats . For ACh, baseline
levels in striatum and striatal extracellular fluid were signifi-
cantly elevated after the rats consumed UMP-containing diet
for at least a week . Furthermore, atropine-induced ACh
release was also enhanced by chronic elevation of uridine
POTENTIAL MECHANISMS OF URIDINE ACTION
thesis of different molecules, which could potentially ac-
count for its neural actions. Thus, it has been hypothesized
that elevated uridine level can increase the rate of RNA syn-
thesis under pathological conditions, e.g. following epileptic
seizures , which might contribute to its anticonvulsant
properties. There is more evidence available that uridine
exerts some of its actions via elevated synthesis of mem-
brane constituents and of transmitter uridine nucleotides,
which could affect neuronal signal transmission. Experimen-
tal support of these suggestions is summarized in this chap-
ter. In addition, the existence of a uridine receptor has been
proposed, and a potential direct action of uridine will also be
Uridine, as a precursor metabolite, can support the syn-
Neuronal Membrane Formation
CDP-choline from UTP in the brain seem to depend on the
availability of uridine rather than on the activity of the par-
ticipating enzymes. A similar feature of brain metabolism,
the dependence of synthesis on local concentrations of sub-
strates, which are nutrients that cross the blood-brain barrier,
has been recognized for other important reactions, including
the neuronal production of serotonin, dopamine, or acetyl-
choline from tryptophan, tyrosine, or choline, respectively
. Stimulation of UTP and CDP-choline synthesis by
uridine was first demonstrated in PC12 cells. Adding uridine
to the incubation medium caused significant elevations in
UTP and CDP-choline levels . In a subsequent study, in
which adult gerbils received UMP by gavage, plasma and
brain uridine levels were markedly elevated but cytidine lev-
els were only slightly increased . At the same time, brain
UTP, CTP, and CDP-choline were all elevated 15 min after
UMP administration . Since uridine did not affect the
synthesis of diacylglycerol or the activity of the phos-
photransferase, which catalyzes the synthesis of phosphati-
dylcholine from diacylglycerol and CDP-choline, it is un-
likely that uridine treatment inhibits the conversion of en-
dogenous CDP-choline to phosphatidylcholine . As
CDP-choline is an immediate and rate-limiting precursor of
phosphatidylcholine synthesis, these results suggest that
uridine may also enhance phosphatidylcholine synthesis and
membrane formation [81, 82]. This mechanism is likely to
play a role in the effects of uridine on memory and neuronal
plasticity [73, 77].
The rates of the formation of UTP from uridine and
Uridine Action Via Released Uridine Nucleotides
been proposed  after the discovery of receptors recogniz-
ing uridine nucleotides based on analogy with the release of
adenine nucleotides [84, 85]. Cellular release of uridine nu-
cleotides was first reported from bovine vascular endothelial
cells loaded with radiolabeled uridine . Following the
development of a sensitive enzymatic assay [87, 88] quanti-
fication of physiologically relevant concentrations of UTP
became possible. Caspase-dependent release was found in
thymocytes . A calcium-dependent release of UTP has
been demonstrated from lung cells [90, 91]. The release of
UTP from astrocytoma cells in response to mechanical
stimulation was also demonstrated [87, 92]. It was verified
that the increases in UTP levels were not the result of cell
lysis . In addition to UTP, UDP-sugars were also re-
leased from a variety of cell types including glioma cells [93-
95]. Although these findings suggest that uridine nucleotides
are present in synaptic vesicles, direct evidence of such stor-
age has not been reported. However, a strong argument for
the release of uridine nucleotides is the existence of uridine
nucleotide receptors on plasmamembranes . These recep-
tors belong to the P2Y family of 7 transmembrane domain
G-protein coupled receptors as reviewed extensively [2, 36,
40, 96]. The members of the P2Y receptors family that are
activated by pyrimidines are shown in Table 1. Other mem-
bers of the P2Y receptor family are G-protein coupled recep-
tors that are activated by purine and not pyrimidine nucleo-
tides [2, 96].
Information on the localization of pyrimidine receptors
mostly derives from RT-PCR [98, 100], western blotting
, and cell culture studies , which did not allow the
determination of the precise distribution of pyrimidine recep-
tors. Therefore, these receptors are to be investigated by in
situ hybridization, immunocytochemical, electronmicro-
scopical as well as functional approaches in the future. Initial
functional studies suggest the involvement of pyrimidine
receptors in the proliferation, differentiation, survival of
cells, as well as the removal of damaged cells. UTP induces
proliferation and neuronal differentiation of olfactory epithe-
lium  and augments the proliferation of adult neural
progenitor cells via P2Y2 receptors . UTP was also neu-
roprotective against cerebral ischemia reperfusion injury
. Microglia expressing P2Y6 receptors show phagocy-
tosis by the stimulation of UDP  while UTP was shown
to promote the removal of apoptotic cells by phagocytes via
P2Y2 receptors .
The experimental data are scarce as to whether the effects
of uridine are exerted via pyrimidine receptors. While
uridine is known to increase the level of intracellular UTP
[81, 82], there is no information whether it also increases the
level of the releasable pool of pyrimidine nucleotides. Nev-
ertheless, available evidence suggests that uridine nucleo-
tides and pyrimidine receptors contribute to the neurite out-
growth enhancing effect of uridine in PC12 cells. The in-
crease in neurite outgrowth produced by uridine administra-
tion was mimicked by exposing the cells to UTP, and could
be blocked by various drugs known to antagonize P2Y re-
ceptors, such as suramin, reactive blue 2, and pyridoxal-
phosphate-6-azophenyl-2',4' disulfonic acid . Moreover,
The release of uridine nucleotides from brain cells has
1062 Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 8
Dobolyi et al.
degradation of nucleotides by apyrase blocked the stimula-
tory effect of uridine on neuritogenesis .
Evidence for a Uridine Receptor in the Brain
in the extracellular space by nucleotide-converting ectoen-
zymes [1, 37, 107, 108]. Indeed, depolarization leads to ele-
vated extracellular uridine levels. Labeled uridine taken up
by synaptosomes in a dipyridamole-sensitive process was
shown to be released by 4-aminopyridine-induced depolari-
zation . In vivo depolarization of neuronal cells by oua-
bain, high-potassium ion concentration, and glutamate recep-
tor agonists lead to increased concentrations of uridine in the
extracellular space measured by brain microdialysis [27, 28].
Elevated level of uridine was also found during seizures in
the extracellular space of the hippocampus in an aminopyri-
dine-induced rat model of epilepsy and the levels of uridine
correlated with seizure activity . Furthermore, local ad-
ministration of uridine inhibited hippocampal unit activity in
anaesthetized rats without any change in the local extracellu-
lar adenosine levels . In analogy with the adenosine sys-
tem where ATP as well as its extracellular degradation prod-
uct adenosine have their own receptors , the existence of
uridine receptors has also been suggested. Although uridine
receptors have not been cloned yet, evidence keeps accumu-
lating on the direct binding and action of uridine in the cen-
tral nervous system.
Released uridine nucleotides can be degraded to uridine
brain extracellular space was first provided by the demon-
stration that uridine and GABA interacted competitively
with GABA binding sites in rat cerebellar buffer-washed
membranes. Both high and low affinities of GABA for its
receptors were affected by 1 mM uridine administration,
whereas the apparent number of binding sites remained un-
charged . Subsequently, it was also shown that the
GABA binding to membrane preparations from frontal cor-
tex, hippocampus, and thalamus were all competitively in-
hibited by the in vitro addition of uridine . Since intrap-
eritoneal injection of uridine produced a dose-related de-
crease in the cerebellar content of cyclic GMP and antago-
nized its increase elicited by bicuculline as well as reduced
bicuculline-induced seizures, the anti-convulsant actions of
Evidence that uridine itself may have an active role in the
uridine were suggested to be the result of the modulation of
GABA-mediated inhibitory neurotransmission .
Another line of research based on the sleep-promoting
activity of uridine also lead to the suggestion that uridine
exerts some of its actions through its own receptors. Intrac-
erebroventricular injection of uridine derivatives including
N3-benzyluridine [112, 113], N3-benzyl-6-azauridine [114,
115] and N3-phenacyluridine Fig. (2).  resulted in hyp-
notic activity and prolonged the duration of pentobarbital-
induced sleep. In contrast, a number of structurally related
compounds were without effects [114, 115]. Furthermore, an
uridine analogue, N3-alpha-hydroxy-beta-phenethyluridine
Fig. (2). was identified whose N3-(S)-(+)- but not N3-(R)-(-)-
alpha-hydroxy-beta-phenethyluridine isomer had potent
hypnotic activity and inhibited N3-phenacyluridine binding
. In additional experiments, specific uridine binding
was demonstrated in synaptic membranes from bovine
thalamus and N3-Phenacyl derivatives of uridine inhibited
specific uridine binding . In contrast, N3-phenacyl-2',3'-
O-isopropylideneuridine, whose sugar moiety is different
from uridine, and N3-benzyluracil and N3-phenacyluracil that
have no ribose moiety, did not have hypnotic activity and
exhibited no binding affinity . The affinities of N3-
phenacyluridine to benzodiazepine, GABA, 5-HT, and
adenosine receptors were quite low . Therefore, the
binding site of uridine and N3-phenacyluridine was proposed
to represent a uridine receptor, which may play a role in the
induction of sleep mediated by uridine .
Fig. (2). Chemical structure of uridine and uridine analogues with
hypnotic activity. The asymmetric center of N3-?-Hydroxy-?-
phenylethyluridine is indicated by *.
Table 1. Pyrimidine Receptors and Their Localization in the Central Nervous System
Endogenous Agonists Receptor Localization
P2Y2 UTP=ATP Neurons and glial cells in several brain regions 
P2Y4 UTP>ATP Neurons and glial cells in several brain regions 
P2Y6 UDP Neurons and glial cells in several brain regions 
P2Y14 UDP-sugars Mostly astrocytes, microglia 
GPR17 UDP, UDP-sugars, cysteinyl-leukotrienes
Neurons in several brain regions but not in astrocytes
There are five currently known receptors that recognize uridine derivatives. These are listed in the first column. The recently deorphanized G-protein-coupled receptor 17 (GPR17)
has not yet been renamed. The second column indicates the endogenous agonists and also their relative affinities. The third column of the table describes the localization of the
receptors and the corresponding references.
Brain Function of Uridine Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 8 1063
in rat synaptosomal membranes . Pyrimidine and purine
analogues displayed different rank order of potency in dis-
placement of specifically bound uridine (uridine > 5-F-
uridine > 5-Br-uridine similar to adenosine >> 5-ethyl-
uridine similar to suramin > theophylline) and in the inhibi-
tion of uridine uptake (adenosine > uridine > 5-Br-uridine
similar to 5-F-uridine similar to 5-ethyl-uridine) into purified
cerebrocortical synaptosomes . Furthermore, dipyrida-
mole did not affect uridine binding and the effective ligand
concentration for the inhibition of uridine uptake was about
two orders of magnitude higher than that for the displace-
ment of specifically bound uridine supporting that the bind-
ing site is not a nucleoside transporter. Actions of uridine,
UDP, UTP, ATP, and adenosine were studied by fluorescent
labeling of ion fluxes into cortical synaptosomes. Uridine
evoked the largest transmembrane Ca2+ ion influx, whereas
adenosine evoked K+ ion influx [109, 120]. Also, uridine was
shown to increase free intracellular Ca2+ ion levels in hippo-
campal slices . Uridine analogues were found to be in-
effective in displacing radioligands that were bound to vari-
ous glutamate and adenosine-recognition and modulatory-
binding sites, which is important because [S]-willardiine, a
specific agonist of the AMPA receptor  is an uridine
derivative . Moreover, the GTP binding site on
AMPA/kainate receptor may show affinity for uridine [123,
124]. In additional characterization of the uridine binding
site, it was shown that [35S]GTPgammaS binding to mem-
branes isolated from the rat cerebral cortex was enhanced by
uridine arguing for the involvement of a G-protein-coupled
receptor . Altogether, these findings provide evidence
for a rather specific, G-protein-coupled binding site of exci-
tatory action for uridine in the brain. However, the direct
evidence for the existence of a uridine receptor is still miss-
ing. The protein(s) responsible for binding uridine and mak-
ing alterations in brain functions are not identified yet. The
existence of a putative uridine receptor has probability but
the final validation of the receptor requires molecular bio-
logical and additional pharmacological studies. Thus, identi-
fication and characterization of uridine receptor would be the
next essential step for understanding the role of uridine in the
In another approach, uridine binding sites were identified
UTILIZATION OF CENTRAL
for therapeutic use because of its low toxicity. Uridine ad-
ministration was tested in human in order to alleviate the
side-effects of anti-cancer drugs . It was established that
the major limiting factors in increasing the dose of uridine in
human are fever and diarrhea [126, 127]. Since orally admin-
istered formulas can increase uridine levels in the plasma as
well as in the brain , it is relatively straightforward to
address the central actions of uridine for therapeutic pur-
poses. Based on the actions of uridine, its potential antiepi-
leptic effects as well as its potential effects on memory in
Alzheimer disease have been tested.
Uridine, as a natural endogenous molecule, is attractive
developmental delay, seizures, ataxia, severe language defi-
cit, and an unusual behavioral phenotype were investigated.
Examination of the cultured fibroblasts of these patients re-
Four unrelated patients with a syndrome that included
vealed that the activity of cytosolic 5'-nucleotidase was
markedly elevated, which resulted in a decreased incorpora-
tion of uridine into nucleotides with normal utilization of
purine bases . In response to oral uridine administration,
the patients experienced fewer seizures, decreased ataxia,
improved speech and behavior, and improved cognitive per-
formance in a double-blind placebo trial. On replacement of
the supplements with placebo, the patients rapidly regressed
to their pretreatment states. These observations suggest that
increased nucleotide catabolism causes the symptoms of
these patients, which can be reversed by administration of
In another human study, the effect of CDP-choline (citi-
coline) was tested on the verbal memory of older volunteers.
Dietary CDP-choline is known to increase the levels of
uridine in the brain . In a randomized, double-blind, pla-
cebo-controlled, parallel group design study, the subjects
took either placebo or citicoline (1000 mg/d) for 3 months.
Citicoline therapy improved delayed recall on logical mem-
ory only for the subjects with relatively inefficient memories
. These subjects with relatively inefficient memories
were recruited for a second study that used a crossover de-
sign where subjects took both placebo and citicoline (2000
mg/d), each for 2 months. In this study, citicoline was clearly
associated with improved immediate and delayed logical
memory . Consequently, citicoline may prove effective
in treating age-related cognitive decline that may be the pre-
cursor of dementia. Therefore, CDP-choline and other nutri-
tional components that increase brain uridine levels may be
important in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease . Alz-
heimer's disease is a progressive memory impairment char-
acterized by neurodegeneration and the dense deposition of
misfolded proteins in the brain. There is no cure for Alz-
heimer's disease and current treatments usually only provide
a temporary reduction of symptoms. An Alzheimer's dis-
eased brain contains fewer synapses and reduced levels of
synaptic proteins and membrane phosphatides . The
ability of nutritional compositions to stimulate synapse for-
mation and effectively reduce Alzheimer's disease neuropa-
thology in these preclinical models provides a solid basis to
predict potential to modify the disease process, especially
during the early phases of Alzheimer's disease [73, 129].
Whether these potential therapeutic effects of a nutrient ap-
proach observed in animal models can also be replicated in a
clinical study needs further investigation [72, 131].
Uridine might also be effective in the treatment of other
neurodegenerative disorders than Alzheimer's disease. In a
recent study, co-administration of UMP and docosahex-
aenoic acid known to increase synapse formation alleviated
the behavioral consequences of 6-hydroxydopamine injec-
tion in a rat model of Parkinson's disease . In addition,
the levels of striatal dopamine, synapsin-1, and the activity
of tyrosine hydroxylase were increased by the treatment at
the lesioned side . The finding that uridine and docosa-
hexaenoic acid partially restored dopaminergic neurotrans-
mission in this model of Parkinson's disease suggest that
they may also be effective in the human disorder. The poten-
tiation of haloperidol effects by uridine suggests that uridine
coadministration might enhance the antipsychotic action of
traditional neuroleptics. This would allow for a reduction in
the therapeutic dose of the antipsychotic, thereby making it
1064 Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 8
Dobolyi et al.
possible to relieve some of the side effects of neuroleptic
therapy [56, 57].
Uridine might also be useful as a nutrition supplement
during development. Uridine (as uridine monophosphate) is
found in mother's milk and has been proposed to play a role
in regulatory mechanism through which plasma composition
influences brain development . UMP and docosahex-
aenoic acid administered orally to rat dams during gestation
and nursing increased synaptic elements in brains of wean-
ling pups suggesting that the administration of these phos-
phatide precursors to lactating mothers or infants could be
useful for treating developmental disorders characterized by
deficient synapses .
molecule, which is involved in the regulation of certain neu-
ral functions apart from its role in pyrimidine metabolism.
Uridine has sleep-promoting and anti-epileptic effects, might
affect mood, improves memory function and influences neu-
ronal plasticity. Evidence for the existence of uridine-
sensitive neurons is also convincing. These actions are likely
to be exerted via its actions on membrane formation, by the
known uridine nucleotide receptors, or even on its own puta-
tive receptor predicted in plasmamembranes or intracellular
binding sites in the central nervous system. Since uridine, as
a dietary component, is not toxic and has access to the brain
from the plasma through transporters, it is an appealing lead
molecule for the development of drugs with central site of
action. Based on its actions, the therapeutic application of
uridine and its derivatives are being explored.
Emerging evidence suggests that uridine is a neuroactive
Grant of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and the Hun-
garian Scientific Research Fund Research Grants NFM-
OTKA NNF2 85612, and NKTH-OTKA K67646 for AD,
and the Scientific Foundation of NYME SEK (2009-2010)
Hungary for ZsK and NKTH TECH_09_A1 for AD and JK,
and TAMOP 4.2.1./B-09/1KMR-2010-0003 to GJ.
Support was provided by the Bolyai János Fellowship
CNT = Concentrative nucleoside transporter
dTTP = Deoxythymidine-5'-triphosphate
GPR17 = G-protein-coupled receptor 17
PRPP = Phosphoribosylpyrophosphate
UDP = Uridine-5'-diphosphate
Ura = Uracil
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Received: June 10, 2010 Revised: September 07, 2010 Accepted: September 10, 2010