Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits in autism: an immunohistochemical investigation in the thalamus

Neurobiol Dis. 2005 Aug;19(3):366-77. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2005.01.017.


The cholinergic system has been implicated in the development of autism on the basis of neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) losses in cerebral and cerebellar cortex. In the present study, the first to explore nAChRs in the thalamus in autism, alpha4, alpha7 and beta2 nAChR subunit expression in thalamic nuclei of adult individuals with autism (n=3) and age-matched control cases (n=3) was investigated using immunochemical methods. Loss of alpha7- and beta2- (but not alpha4-) immunoreactive neurons occurred in the paraventricular nucleus (PV) and nucleus reuniens in autism. Preliminary results indicated glutamic acid decarboxylase immunoreactivity occurred at a low level in PV, co-expressed with alpha7 in normal and autistic cases and was not reduced in autism. This suggested loss of neuronal alpha7 in autism is not caused by loss of GABAergic neurons. These findings indicate nicotinic abnormalities that occur in the thalamus in autism which may contribute to sensory or attentional deficits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Autistic Disorder / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / biosynthesis*
  • Thalamus / metabolism*
  • Thalamus / pathology


  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase