Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Studies of GABA in Neuropsychiatric Disorders

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Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system and is integral to managing brain excitability. GABA concentrations vary according to age, gender, and brain region. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), with editing or with localized 2-dimensional chemical shift methods, can measure GABA levels in vivo, ex vivo, or in vitro, particularly at ultra-high magnetic field strengths. Proton (1H) MRS studies have found reduced or abnormal GABA concentrations in several neuropsychiatric disorders, including epilepsy, anxiety disorders, major depression, and drug addiction. Disorders with low GABA levels may be treated by augmentation of GABAergic function, such as by medications that block the degradation or reuptake of GABA. Examples of such a rational therapeutic approach include anticonvulsants that elevate brain GABA levels and are effective for the treatment of epilepsy and anxiety disorder.

J Clin Psychiatry 2003;64(suppl 3):7-14