GABA concentrations in the anterior cingulate cortex are associated with fear network function and fear recovery in humans

Nina Levar, Judith M.C. van Leeuwen, Nicolaas A.J. Puts, Damiaan Denys, Guido A. Van Wingen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Relapse of fear after successful treatment is a common phenomenon in patients with anxiety disorders. Animal research suggests that the inhibitory neurotransmitter γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) plays a key role in the maintenance of extinguished fear. Here, we combined magnetic resonance spectroscopy and functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the role of GABA in fear recovery in 70 healthy male participants. We associated baseline GABA levels in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) to indices of fear recovery as defined by changes in skin conductance responses (SCRs), blood oxygen level dependent responses, and functional connectivity from fear extinction to fear retrieval. The results showed that high GABA levels were associatedwith increasedSCRs, enhancedactivation of the right amygdala, andreduced amygdala-ventromedial prefrontal cortex connectivity during fear recovery. Follow-up analyses exclusively for the extinction phase showed that high GABA levels were associated with reduced amygdala activation and enhanced amygdala-ventromedial prefrontal cortex connectivity, despite the absence of correlations between GABA and physiological responses. Follow-up analyses for the retrieval phase did not show any significant associations with GABA. Together, the association between GABA and increases in SCRs from extinction to retrieval, without associations during both phases separately, suggests that dACC GABA primarily inhibits the consolidation of fear extinction. In addition, the opposite effects of GABAon amygdala activity andconnectivity during fear extinction compared to fear recovery suggest that dACC GABA may initially facilitate extinction learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number202
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
StatePublished - Apr 27 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • DACC
  • Extinction
  • FMRI
  • Fear
  • GABA
  • MRS
  • Recovery
  • SCR

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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