Density and Distribution of Hippocampal Neurotransmitter Receptors in Autism: An Autoradiographic Study

J Autism Dev Disord. 2001 Dec;31(6):537-43. doi: 10.1023/a:1013238809666.


Neuropathological studies in autistic brains have shown small neuronal size and increased cell packing density in a variety of limbic system structures including the hippocampus, a change consistent with curtailment of normal development. Based on these observations in the hippocampus, a series of quantitative receptor autoradiographic studies were undertaken to determine the density and distribution of eight types of neurotransmitter receptors from four neurotransmitter systems (GABAergic, serotoninergic [5-HT], cholinergic, and glutamatergic). Data from these single concentration ligand binding studies indicate that the GABAergic receptor system (3[H]-flunitrazepam labeled benzodiazepine binding sites and 3[H]-muscimol labeled GABA(A) receptors) is significantly reduced in high binding regions, marking for the first time an abnormality in the GABA system in autism. In contrast, the density and distribution of the other six receptors studied (3[H]-80H-DPAT labeled 5-HT1A receptors, 3[H]-ketanserin labeled 5-HT2 receptors, 3[H]-pirenzepine labled M1 receptors, 3[H]-hemicholinium labeled high affinity choline uptake sites, 3[H]-MK801 labeled NMDA receptors, and 3[H]-kainate labeled kainate receptors) in the hippocampus did not demonstrate any statistically significant differences in binding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder / metabolism*
  • Autistic Disorder / pathology*
  • Autoradiography / instrumentation
  • Autoradiography / methods
  • Binding Sites / physiology
  • Cell Count
  • Culture Techniques
  • Flunitrazepam / pharmacokinetics
  • GABA Modulators / pharmacokinetics
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Hippocampus / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscimol / pharmacokinetics
  • Receptors, GABA / metabolism
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / metabolism*


  • GABA Modulators
  • Receptors, GABA
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter
  • Muscimol
  • Flunitrazepam