Patients with chronic alcoholism and/or Alzheimer's disease show degenerative changes in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus. To investigate possible changes in insulin-like growth factor I receptor binding sites in brain tissue of patients with these pathological conditions, the number of 125I-insulin-like growth factor I binding sites was determined in tissues obtained from control patients and those with Alzheimer's and/or with a history of alcoholism. The four experimental groups examined consisted of patients from similar age groups. Postmortem histology and a clinical history were used for the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease and alcoholism, respectively. Careful clinical records were kept concerning other variables such as immediate cause of death and medications administered before death. Specific binding of 125I-insulin-like growth factor I to homogenates prepared from cerebral cortex of Alzheimer's, alcoholic, alcoholic Alzheimer's, and age-matched control patients was similar, although Alzheimer's patients tended to have slightly higher binding values. No significant differences in insulin-like growth factor I binding in cerebral cortex were found with regard to age of patients, the interval between death and autopsy, and CNS-active medications. No statistical differences in 125I-insulin-like growth factor I binding were noted in hippocampal tissue from the four patient groups. Thus, human insulin-like growth factor I binding sites in cerebral cortex and hippocampus appear unaffected by several variables.