Prefrontal cortical gamma-aminobutyric acid transmission and cognitive function: drawing links to schizophrenia from preclinical research

Biol Psychiatry. 2015 Jun 1;77(11):929-39. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.09.007. Epub 2014 Nov 18.


Cognitive dysfunction in schizophrenia is one of the most pervasive and debilitating aspects of the disorder. Among the numerous neural abnormalities that may contribute to schizophrenia symptoms, perturbations in markers for the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), particularly within the frontal lobes, are some of the most reliable alterations observed at postmortem examination. However, how prefrontal GABA dysfunction contributes to cognitive impairment in schizophrenia remains unclear. We provide an overview of postmortem GABAergic perturbations in the brain affected by schizophrenia and describe circumstantial evidence linking these alterations to cognitive dysfunction. In addition, we conduct a survey of studies using neurodevelopmental, genetic, and pharmacologic rodent models that induce schizophrenia-like cognitive impairments, highlighting the convergence of these mechanistically distinct approaches to prefrontal GABAergic disruption. We review preclinical studies that have directly targeted prefrontal cortical GABAergic transmission using local application of GABAA receptor antagonists. These studies have provided an important link between GABA transmission and cognitive dysfunction in schizophrenia because they show that reducing prefrontal inhibitory transmission induces various cognitive, emotional, and dopaminergic abnormalities that resemble aspects of the disorder. These converging clinical and preclinical findings provide strong support for the idea that perturbations in GABA signaling drive certain forms of cognitive dysfunction in schizophrenia. Future studies using this approach will yield information to refine further a putative "GABA hypothesis" of schizophrenia.

Keywords: Animal models; Attention; Cognitive deficits; Cognitive flexibility; GABA; Prefrontal cortex; Schizophrenia; Working memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism*
  • Schizophrenia / complications*
  • Schizophrenia / pathology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid