The heterocyclic compound kainic acid (KA) is a potent excitant when applied to mammalian neurones1. Lesions caused by injections of KA into the rat striatum and hippocampus cause similar patterns of damage to those seen in Huntington's chorea and status epilepticus, respectively2,3. Although it was originally thought to be a glutamate agonist4, it is now clear that KA does not act on the majority of the receptors for glutamate5-7, and in fact seems to act on a class of receptors which are distinct from those which mediate responses to other excitatory amino acids8,9. The potent and selective neurotoxic effects of this compound10 may be mediated by these same receptors. At present, the relative distribution of junctional and extra-junctional (non-synaptic) receptors is unknown and resolution of this issue would provide important insights into the action of KA on the central nervous system (CNS). We show here that KA binding sites are greatly enriched in isolated synaptic junctions from rat brain and, using an in vitro autoradiographic technique, we have found that these binding sites are concentrated specifically in terminal fields where KA acts as a potent neurotoxin.
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