Evidence of cortical inhibitory deficits in major depressive disorder

Biol Psychiatry. 2010 Mar 1;67(5):458-64. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.09.025. Epub 2009 Nov 17.


Background: Several lines of evidence suggest that major depressive disorder is associated with deficits in gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) inhibitory neurotransmission. Transcranial magnetic stimulation represents a noninvasive technique to measure cortical inhibition. In this study, we endeavored to measure cortical inhibition in medicated patients with treatment resistant major depressive disorder (TRD), unmedicated patients with major depressive disorder, and medicated euthymic patients with a history of major depressive disorder and compare them with healthy subjects.

Methods: Twenty-five patients with TRD, 16 unmedicated patients with major depressive disorder, 19 medicated euthymic patients with previous major depressive disorder (i.e., 17-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression < 8), and 25 healthy subjects were enrolled. Cortical inhibition was measured with transcranial magnetic stimulation paradigms known as short-interval cortical inhibition and the cortical silent period, which index GABA(A) and GABA(B) receptor-mediated inhibitory neurotransmission, respectively.

Results: All major depressive disorder patient groups demonstrated significant cortical silent period deficits compared with healthy subjects. By contrast, only TRD patients demonstrated significant deficits in short-interval cortical inhibition compared with healthy subjects, medicated euthymic major depressive disorder patients, and unmedicated major depressive disorder patients. The TRD patients also demonstrated a significantly greater resting motor threshold compared with all other clinical subgroups and healthy subjects, suggesting that TRD was also associated with hypoexcitability of the frontal cortex.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that GABA(B) neurophysiological deficits are closely related to pathophysiology of major depressive disorder. Our findings also suggest that more severe illness is selectively associated with GABA(A) receptor-mediated inhibitory deficits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / metabolism
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation


  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors