Brain sections from patients who had died with senile dementia of the Alzheimer's type (SDAT), Huntington's disease (HD), or no neurologic disease were studied by autoradiography to measure sodium-independent L-[3H]glutamate binding. In brain sections from SDAT patients, glutamate binding was normal in the caudate, putamen, and claustrum but was lower than normal in the cortex. The decreased cortical binding represented a reduction in numbers of binding sites, not a change in binding affinity, and appeared to be the result of a specific decrease in numbers of the low-affinity quisqualate binding site. No significant changes in cortical binding of other ligands were observed. In brains from Huntington's disease patients, glutamate binding was lower in the caudate and putamen than in the same regions of brains from control and SDAT patients but was normal in the cortex. It is possible that development of positron-emitting probes for glutamate receptors may permit diagnosis of SDAT in vivo by means of positron emission tomographic scanning.