Postnatal maturation of human GABAA receptors measured with positron emission tomography

Ann Neurol. 2001 May;49(5):618-26.


During brain development in nonhuman primates, there are large changes in GABAA receptor binding and subunit expression. An understanding of human GABAA receptor ontogeny is highly relevant in elucidating the pathophysiology of neurodevelopmental disorders in which GABAergic mechanisms play a role as well as in understanding differences that occur during development in the pharmacology of drugs acting on this system. We have measured age-related changes in the brain distribution of the GABAA receptor complex in vivo using positron emission tomography (PET) in epileptic children under evaluation for surgical treatment. PET imaging was performed using the tracer [11C]flumazenil (FMZ), a ligand that binds to alpha subunits of the GABAA receptor. FMZ binding was quantified using a two-compartment model yielding values for the volume of distribution (VD) of the tracer in tissue. All brain regions studied showed the highest value for FMZ VD at the youngest age measured (2 years), and the values then decreased exponentially with age. Medial temporal lobe structures, primary visual cortex, and thalamus showed larger differences between values for age 2 years and adults (approximately 50% decrease) than did basal ganglia, cerebellum, and other cortical regions (25-40% decreases). Furthermore, subcortical regions reached adult values earlier (14-17.5 years) than did cortical regions (18-22 years). The ontogeny data of FMZ VD from children may contribute to understanding regional differences in synaptic plasticity as well as improve rational therapeutic use of drugs acting at the GABAA receptor in the pediatric population.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Benzodiazepines / metabolism
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Epilepsy / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed*


  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Benzodiazepines