Sex- and age-related changes in GABA signaling components in the human cortex

Biol Sex Differ. 2019 Jan 14;10(1):5. doi: 10.1186/s13293-018-0214-6.


Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the nervous system. Previous studies have shown fluctuations in expression levels of GABA signaling components-glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), GABA receptor (GABAR) subunit, and GABA transporter (GAT)-with increasing age and between sexes; however, this limited knowledge is highly based on animal models that produce inconsistent findings. This study is the first analysis of the age- and sex-specific changes of the GAD, GABAA/BR subunits, and GAT expression in the human primary sensory and motor cortices; superior (STG), middle (MTG), and inferior temporal gyrus (ITG); and cerebellum. Utilizing Western blotting, we found that the GABAergic system is relatively robust against sex and age-related differences in all brain regions examined. However, we observed several sex-dependent differences in GABAAR subunit expression in STG along with age-dependent GABAAR subunit and GAD level alteration. No significant age-related differences were found in α1, α2, α5, β3, and γ2 subunit expression in the STG. However, we found significantly higher GABAAR α3 subunit expression in the STG in young males compared to old males. We observed a significant sex-dependent difference in α1 subunit expression: males presenting significantly higher levels compared to women across all stages of life in STG. Older females showed significantly lower α2, α5, and β3 subunit expression compared to old males in the STG. These changes found in the STG might significantly influence GABAergic neurotransmission and lead to sex- and age-specific disease susceptibility and progression.

Keywords: Aging; GABA transporter; GABAA receptor; GABAB receptor; GAD; Human brain; Sex difference.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Signal Transduction
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid