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Molecular analysis of nicotinic receptor expression in autism

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Carmen Martin-RuizORCiD, Emeritus Professor Robert Perry, Dr Jennifer Court, Emeritus Professor Elaine Perry


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Autism is a developmental disorder of unknown aetiopathology and lacking any specific pharmacological therapeutic intervention. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and acetylcholine have been implicated. Abnormalities in nicotinic acetylcholine receptors have been identified including cortical loss of binding to the α4/β2 subtype and increase in cerebellar α7 binding. Receptor expression (mRNA) has not so far been systematically examined. This study aims to further explore the role of nicotinic receptors in autism by analysing nicotinic receptor subunit mRNA in conjunction with protein levels and receptor binding in different brain areas. Quantitative RT-PCR for α4, α7 and β2 subunit mRNA expression levels; α3, α4, α7 and β2 subunit protein expression immunochemistry and specific radioligand receptor binding were performed in adult autism and control brain samples from cerebral cortex and cerebellum. Alpha4 and β2 protein expression and receptor binding density as well as α4 mRNA levels were lower in parietal cortex in autism, while α7 did not change for any of these parameters. In cerebellum, α4 mRNA expression was increased, whereas subunit protein and receptor levels were decreased. Alpha7 receptor binding in cerebellum was increased alongside non-significant elevations in mRNA and protein expression levels. No significant changes were found for β2 in cerebellum. The data obtained, using complementary measures of receptor expression, indicate that reduced gene expression of the α4β2 nicotinic receptor in the cerebral cortex is a major feature of the neurochemical pathology of autism, whilst post-transcriptional abnormalities of both this and the α7 subtype are apparent in the cerebellum. The findings point to dendritic and/or synaptic nicotinic receptor abnormalities that may relate to disruptions in cerebral circuitry development. © 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Martin-Ruiz CM, Lee M, Perry RH, Baumann M, Court JA, Perry EK

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Molecular Brain Research

Year: 2004

Volume: 123

Issue: 1-2

Pages: 81-90

ISSN (print): 0169-328X

ISSN (electronic): 1872-6941

Publisher: Elsevier BV


DOI: 10.1016/j.molbrainres.2004.01.003

PubMed id: 15046869


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