A high-resolution in vivo atlas of the human brain's benzodiazepine binding site of GABA A receptors

Neuroimage. 2021 Feb 18;232:117878. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.117878. Online ahead of print.


Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the human brain and plays a key role in several brain functions and neuropsychiatric disorders such as anxiety, epilepsy, and depression. For decades, several in vivo and ex vivo techniques have been used to highlight the mechanisms of the GABA system, however, no studies have currently combined the techniques to create a high-resolution multimodal view of the GABA system. Here, we present a quantitative high-resolution in vivo atlas of the human brain benzodiazepine receptor sites (BZR) located on postsynaptic ionotropic GABAA receptors (GABAARs), generated on the basis of in vivo [11C]flumazenil Positron Emission Tomography (PET) data. Next, based on ex vivo autoradiography data, we transform the PET-generated atlas from binding values into BZR protein density. Finally, we examine the brain regional association between BZR protein density and ex vivo mRNA expression for the 19 subunits in the GABAAR, including an estimation of the minimally required expression of mRNA levels for each subunit to translate into BZR protein. This represents the first publicly available quantitative high-resolution in vivo atlas of the spatial distribution of BZR densities in the healthy human brain. The atlas provides a unique neuroscientific tool as well as novel insights into the association between mRNA expression for individual subunits in the GABAAR and the BZR density at each location in the brain.

Keywords: Atlas; Autoradiography; Benzodiazepine binding site; GABA; PET; mRNA.