GABA levels are differentially associated with bimanual motor performance in older as compared to young adults

Celine Maes, Koen Cuypers, Kirstin Friederike Heise, Richard A.E. Edden, Jolien Gooijers, Stephan P. Swinnen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Although gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is of particular importance for efficient motor functioning, very little is known about the relationship between regional GABA levels and motor performance. Some studies suggest this relation to be subject to age-related differences even though literature is scarce. To clarify this matter, we employed a comprehensive approach and investigated GABA levels within young and older adults across multiple motor tasks as well as multiple brain regions. Specifically, 30 young and 30 older adults completed a task battery of three different bimanual tasks. Furthermore, GABA levels were obtained within bilateral primary sensorimotor cortex (SM1), bilateral dorsal premotor cortex, the supplementary motor area and bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) using magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Results indicated that older adults, as compared to their younger counterparts, performed worse on all bimanual tasks and exhibited lower GABA levels in bilateral SM1 only. Moreover, GABA levels across the motor network and DLPFC were differentially associated with performance in young as opposed to older adults on a manual dexterity and bimanual coordination task but not a finger tapping task. Specifically, whereas higher GABA levels related to better manual dexterity within older adults, higher GABA levels predicted poorer bimanual coordination performance in young adults. By determining a task-specific and age-dependent association between GABA levels across the cortical motor network and performance on distinct bimanual tasks, the current study advances insights in the role of GABA for motor performance in the context of aging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number117871
StatePublished - May 1 2021


  • Aging
  • GABA
  • MRS
  • Motor performance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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