Occipital GABA levels in older adults and their relationship to visual perceptual suppression

Sci Rep. 2017 Oct 27;7(1):14231. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-14577-5.


Several studies have attributed certain visual perceptual alterations in older adults to a likely decrease in GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric Acid) concentration in visual cortex, an assumption based on findings in aged non-human primates. However, to our knowledge, there is no direct evidence for an age-related decrease in GABA concentration in human visual cortex. Here, we estimated visual cortical GABA levels and Glx (combined estimate of glutamate and glutamine) levels using magnetic resonance spectroscopy. We also measured performance for two visual tasks that are hypothesised to be mediated, at least in part, by GABAergic inhibition: spatial suppression of motion and binocular rivalry. Our results show increased visual cortical GABA levels, and reduced Glx levels, in older adults. Perceptual performance differed between younger and older groups for both tasks. When subjects of all ages were combined, visual cortical GABA levels but not Glx levels correlated with perceptual performance. No relationship was found between perception and GABA levels in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Perceptual measures and GABA were not correlated when either age group was considered separately. Our results challenge current assumptions regarding neurobiological changes that occur within the aging human visual cortex and their association with certain age-related changes in visual perception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Glutamine / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occipital Lobe / metabolism*
  • Occipital Lobe / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology
  • Visual Perception*
  • Young Adult
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • Glutamine
  • Glutamic Acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid