PET imaging of serotonin 1A receptor binding in depression

Biol Psychiatry. 1999 Nov 15;46(10):1375-87. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3223(99)00189-4.


Background: The serotonin-1A (5HT1A) receptor system has been implicated in the pathophysiology of major depression by postmortem studies of suicide victims and depressed subjects dying of natural causes. This literature is in disagreement, however, regarding the brain regions where 5HT1A receptor binding differs between depressives and controls and the direction of such differences relative to the normal baseline, possibly reflecting the diagnostic heterogeneity inherent within suicide samples. PET imaging using the 5HT1A receptor radioligand, [11C]WAY-100635, may clarify the clinical conditions under which 5HT1A receptor binding potential (BP) is abnormal in depression.

Methods: Regional 5HT1A receptor BP values were compared between 12 unmedicated depressives with primary, recurrent, familial mood disorders and 8 healthy controls using PET and [carbonyl-11C]WAY-100635. Regions-of-interest (ROI) assessed were the mesiotemporal cortex (hippocampus-amygdala) and midbrain raphe, where previous postmortem studies suggested 5HT1A receptor binding is abnormal in depression.

Results: The mean 5HT1A receptor BP was reduced 41.5% in the raphe (p < .02) and 26.8% in the mesiotemporal cortex (p < .025) in the depressives relative to the controls. Post hoc comparisons showed the abnormal reduction in 5HT1A receptor BP was not limited to these regions, but extended to control ROI in the occipital cortex and postcentral gyrus as well. The magnitude of these abnormalities was most prominent in bipolar depressives (n = 4) and unipolar depressives with bipolar relatives (n = 4).

Conclusions: Serotonin-1A receptor BP is abnormally decreased in the depressed phase of familial mood disorders in multiple brain regions. Of the regions tested, the magnitude of this reduction was most prominent in the midbrain raphe. Converging evidence from postmortem studies of mood disorders suggests these reductions of 5HT1A receptor BP may be associated with histopathological changes involving the raphe.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Binding, Competitive / physiology*
  • Bipolar Disorder / diagnostic imaging*
  • Bipolar Disorder / genetics
  • Bipolar Disorder / metabolism*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / genetics
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Receptors, Serotonin / metabolism*
  • Recurrence
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Time Factors
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed*


  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Hydrocortisone