GABA abnormalities in schizophrenia: a methodological review of in vivo studies

Schizophr Res. 2015 Sep;167(1-3):84-90. doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2014.10.011. Epub 2014 Oct 25.


Abnormalities of GABAergic interneurons are some of the most consistent findings from post-mortem studies of schizophrenia. However, linking these molecular deficits with in vivo observations in patients - a critical goal in order to evaluate interventions that would target GABAergic deficits - presents a challenge. Explanatory models have been developed based on animal work and the emerging experimental literature in schizophrenia patients. This literature includes: neuroimaging ligands to GABA receptors, magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) of GABA concentration, transcranial magnetic stimulation of cortical inhibitory circuits and pharmacologic probes of GABA receptors to dynamically challenge the GABA system, usually in combination with neuroimaging studies. Pharmacologic challenges have elicited behavioral changes, and preliminary studies of therapeutic GABAergic interventions have been conducted. This article critically reviews the evidence for GABAergic dysfunction from each of these areas. These methods remain indirect measures of GABAergic function, and a broad array of dysfunction is linked with the putative GABAergic measures, including positive symptoms, cognition, emotion, motor processing and sensory processing, covering diverse brain areas. Measures of receptor binding have not shown replicable group differences in binding, and MRS assays of GABA concentration have yielded equivocal evidence of large-scale alteration in GABA concentration. Overall, the experimental base remains sparse, and much remains to be learned about the role of GABAergic interneurons in healthy brains. Challenges with pharmacologic and functional probes show promise, and may yet enable a better characterization of GABAergic deficits in schizophrenia.

Keywords: Benzodiazepine; MRS; PET; Psychosis; TMS; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • GABA Agents / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Interneurons / drug effects
  • Interneurons / metabolism
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Neuroimaging
  • Schizophrenia / pathology*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • GABA Agents
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid