Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: Alterations in neurotransmitter receptors

Peter J. Whitehouse, James K. Wamsley, Marco A. Zarbin, Donald L. Price, Wallace W. Tourtellotte, Michael J. Kuhar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


Loss of motor neurons is the primary pathological hallmark of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Drug and neurotransmitter receptors are neuronal markers and can be indicators of neuronal connectivity. Knowledge of alterations in receptors in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis should contribute to our understanding of normal spinal cord neurotransmitter systems as well as of the pathophysiology of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. We therefore used a sensitive, light microscopic in vitro labeling receptor autoradiographic technique to map and quantitate muscarinic cholinergic, glycinergic, and benzodiazepine receptors in three levels of spinal cord from six patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and six age and sex‐matched control patients. In control tissues, the receptor distributions were similar in the three levels of spinal cord and also similar to those found in previous studies with animals. In amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, major reductions in receptor densities were noted in Rexed layer IX, the region containing motor neurons. Reductions were noted in other laminae as well, particularly for muscarinic receptors. The changes in muscarinic receptors were caused solely by changes in high‐affinity agonist sites. Reductions in glycine and muscarinic receptors were highly correlated with the degree of motor neuron loss found in the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis patients. The findings in this study point out the usefulness of this receptor mapping technique in understanding the changes in neuronal populations that occur in the degenerative neurological diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-16
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1983

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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