Some forms of Autism Spectrum Disorder, a neurodevelopmental syndrome characterized by impaired communication and social skills as well as repetitive behaviors, are purportedly associated with dysregulation of the excitation/inhibition balance in the cerebral cortex. Through human postmortem tissue analysis, we previously found a significant decrease in the number of a gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic interneuron subtype, the chandelier (Ch) cell, in the prefrontal cortex of subjects with autism. Ch cells exclusively target the axon initial segment (AIS) of excitatory pyramidal (Pyr) neurons, and a single Ch cell forms synapses on hundreds of Pyr cells, indicating a possible role in maintaining electrical balance. Thus, we herein investigated this crucial link between Ch and Pyr cells in the anatomy of autism neuropathology by examining GABA receptor protein expression in the Pyr cell AIS in subjects with autism. We collected tissue from the prefrontal cortex (Brodmann Areas (BA) 9, 46, and 47) of 20 subjects with autism and 20 age- and sex-matched control subjects. Immunohistochemical staining with antibodies against the GABAA receptor subunit α2 (GABAARα2) - the subunit most prevalent in the Pyr cell AIS - revealed a significantly decreased GABAARα2 protein in the Pyr cell AIS in supragranular layers of prefrontal cortical areas BA9 and BA47 in autism. Downregulated GABAARα2 protein in the Pyr cell AIS may result from decreased GABA synthesis in the prefrontal cortex of subjects with autism, and thereby contribute to an excitation/inhibition imbalance. Our findings support the potential for GABA receptor agonists asa therapeutic tool for autism.
Keywords: GABA; GABA receptor; autism; axon initial segment; chandelier cell; pyramidal cell.
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