Loss of neurotransmitter receptors, especially glutamate and dopamine receptors, is one of the pathologic hallmarks of brains of patients with Huntington disease (HD). Transgenic mice that express exon 1 of an abnormal human HD gene (line R6/2) develop neurologic symptoms at 9-11 weeks of age through an unknown mechanism. Analysis of glutamate receptors (GluRs) in symptomatic 12-week-old R6/2 mice revealed decreases compared with age-matched littermate controls in the type 1 metabotropic GluR (mGluR1), mGluR2, mGluR3, but not the mGluR5 subtype of G protein-linked mGluR, as determined by [3H]glutamate receptor binding, protein immunoblotting, and in situ hybridization. Ionotropic alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid and kainate receptors were also decreased, while N-methyl-D-aspartic acid receptors were not different compared with controls. Other neurotransmitter receptors known to be affected in HD were also decreased in R6/2 mice, including dopamine and muscarinic cholinergic, but not gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors. D1-like and D2-like dopamine receptor binding was drastically reduced to one-third of control in the brains of 8- and 12-week-old R6/2 mice. In situ hybridization indicated that mGluR and D1 dopamine receptor mRNA were altered as early as 4 weeks of age, long prior to the onset of clinical symptoms. Thus, altered expression of neurotransmitter receptors precedes clinical symptoms in R6/2 mice and may contribute to subsequent pathology.