Frontal Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid Concentrations Are Associated With Cognitive Performance in Older Adults

Eric C. Porges, Adam J. Woods, Richard A.E. Edden, Nicolaas A.J. Puts, Ashley D. Harris, Huaihou Chen, Amanda M. Garcia, Talia R. Seider, Damon G. Lamb, John B. Williamson, Ronald A. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Background Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the brain's principal inhibitory neurotransmitter, has been associated with perceptual and attentional functioning. Recent application of magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) provides in vivo evidence for decreasing GABA concentrations during adulthood. It is unclear, however, how age-related decrements in cerebral GABA concentrations contribute to cognitive decline, or whether previously reported declines in cerebral GABA concentrations persist during healthy aging. We hypothesized that participants with higher GABA concentrations in the frontal cortex would exhibit superior cognitive function and that previously reported age-related decreases in cortical GABA concentrations continue into old age. Methods We measured GABA concentrations in frontal and posterior midline cerebral regions using a Mescher-Garwood point-resolved spectroscopy (MEGA-PRESS) 1H-MRS approach in 94 older adults without history or clinical evidence of mild cognitive impairment or dementia (mean age, 73 years). We administered the Montreal Cognitive Assessment to assess cognitive functioning. Results Greater frontal GABA concentrations were associated with superior cognitive performance. This relation remained significant after controlling for age, years of education, and brain atrophy. GABA concentrations in both frontal and posterior regions decreased as a function of age. Conclusions These novel findings from a large, healthy, older population indicate that cognitive function is sensitive to cerebral GABA concentrations in the frontal cortex, and GABA concentration in frontal and posterior regions continue to decline in later age. These effects suggest that proton MRS may provide a clinically useful method for the assessment of normal and abnormal age-related cognitive changes and the associated physiological contributors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-44
Number of pages7
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Aging
  • Cognition
  • GABA
  • MRS
  • γ-Aminobutyric

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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