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Decreased GAD65 mRNA levels in select subpopulations of neurons in the cerebellar dentate nuclei in autism: an in situ hybridization study



The laterally positioned dentate nuclei lie in a key position in the cerebellum to receive input from Purkinje cells in the lateral cerebellar hemisphere participating in both motor and cognitive functions. Although neuropathology of the four cerebellar nuclei using Nissl staining has been qualitatively reported in children and adults with autism, surprisingly the dentate nuclei appeared less affected despite reported reductions in Purkinje cells in the posterolateral cerebellar hemisphere. To determine any underlying abnormalities in the critically important GABAergic system, the rate-limiting GABA synthesizing enzyme, glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) type 65 was measured via in situ hybridization histochemistry in dentate somata. GAD65 mRNA labeling revealed two distinct subpopulations of neurons in adult control and autism postmortem brains: small-sized cells (about 10–12 µm in diameter, presumed interneurons) and larger-sized neurons (about 18–20 µm in diameter, likely feedback to inferior olivary neurons). A mean 51% reduction in GAD65 mRNA levels was found in the larger labeled cells in the autistic group compared with the control group (P=0.009; independent t-test) but not in the smaller cell subpopulation. This suggests a disturbance in the intrinsic cerebellar circuitry in the autism group potentially interfering with the synchronous firing of inferior olivary neurons, and the timing of Purkinje cell firing and inputs to the dentate nuclei. Disturbances in critical neural substrates within these key circuits could disrupt afferents to motor and/or cognitive cerebral association areas in the autistic brain likely contributing to the marked behavioral consequences characteristic of autism.