Mechanism of action of benzodiazepines - the GABA hypothesis

Acta Psychiatr Scand Suppl. 1978;(274):19-26. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.1978.tb02383.x.


Benzodiazepines influence on a number of neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, catecholamines, serotonin, glycine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), but during recent years the major interest has been focused on the inhibitory transmitter GABA. This paper reviews the hypothesis that benzodiazepines act via GABA-ergic mechanisms in the central nervous system. At NIMH in Washington D.C. a novel method to measure the turnover rate of GABA in rat brain nuclei has been developed (Bertilsson et al., J. Pharmacol. Exp. Therap. 200: 277, 1977). The incorporation of 13C from glucose into glutamic acid and GABA was quantitated in stereomicroscopically isolated nuclei. Using this technique it was shown that the GABA agonist muscimol and diazepam have a similar action. Both drugs decreased the turnover rate of GABA in N. caudatus and accumbens, but not in globus pallidus (Mao et al., Biol. Psychiatry 12: 395, 1977). This gives further support to the theory that diazepam acts as a GABA-mimetic drug.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Benzodiazepines / pharmacology*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Catecholamines / metabolism
  • Cerebellum / metabolism
  • Diazepam / metabolism
  • Ganglia, Autonomic / drug effects
  • Glutamates / metabolism
  • Glycine / metabolism
  • Guanosine Monophosphate / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Muscimol / pharmacology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / drug effects
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / pharmacology


  • Catecholamines
  • Glutamates
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Muscimol
  • Serotonin
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Guanosine Monophosphate
  • Acetylcholine
  • Diazepam
  • Glycine