Local GABA Concentration Predicts Perceptual Improvements After Repetitive Sensory Stimulation in Humans

Cereb Cortex. 2016 Mar;26(3):1295-301. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhv296. Epub 2015 Dec 3.


Learning mechanisms are based on synaptic plasticity processes. Numerous studies on synaptic plasticity suggest that the regulation of the inhibitory neurotransmitter γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) plays a central role maintaining the delicate balance of inhibition and excitation. However, in humans, a link between learning outcome and GABA levels has not been shown so far. Using magnetic resonance spectroscopy of GABA prior to and after repetitive tactile stimulation, we show here that baseline GABA+ levels predict changes in perceptual outcome. Although no net changes in GABA+ are observed, the GABA+ concentration prior to intervention explains almost 60% of the variance in learning outcome. Our data suggest that behavioral effects can be predicted by baseline GABA+ levels, which provide new insights into the role of inhibitory mechanisms during perceptual learning.

Keywords: GABA; magnetic resonance spectroscopy; plasticity; tactile learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Female
  • Hand / physiology
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Touch Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid