Individual variability in the shape and amplitude of the BOLD-HRF correlates with endogenous GABAergic inhibition

Suresh D. Muthukumaraswamy, C. John Evans, Richard A.E. Edden, Richard G. Wise, Krish D. Singh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


It has previously been demonstrated that there is a negative correlation between the amplitude of the BOLD response and resting γ amino-butyric acid (GABA) concentration in visual cortex. The work here is the first to empirically characterize individual variability in the haemodynamic response functions (HRFs) in response to a simple visual stimulus and baseline GABA concentration in a population of young adult males (n = 15, aged 20-28 years). The results demonstrate that GABA concentration is negatively correlated with BOLD response amplitude (r = -0.64, P < 0.02) and positively correlated with HRF width (r = 0.67, P < 0.002), that is, individuals with higher resting GABA concentration tend to exhibit smaller and wider HRFs. No correlations were observed with resting cerebral blood flow and GABA concentration and similarly, no correlations were observed between GABA and the proportional tissue content of the MRS voxel. We argue that correlation of the height of the HRF is supportive of the view that the previously observed correlations between BOLD amplitudes and GABA are reflective of differences in neuronal activity. However, the changes in HRF shape in individuals with higher baseline GABA levels are suggestive that differing vascular response characteristics may also make a significant contribution. Our results reinforce the view that variability in endogenous factors, such as neurotransmitter concentration, can have a profound effect on the vascular haemodynamic response. This has important implications for between-cohort fMRI studies in which variation in parameters such as GABA concentration may lead to group differences in the BOLD signal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)455-465
Number of pages11
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2012


  • BOLD
  • FMRI
  • GABA
  • HRF
  • Spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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