Prefrontal GABA Levels Correlate with Memory in Older Adults at High Risk for Alzheimer's Disease

Cereb Cortex Commun. 2020 Jun 8;1(1):tgaa022. doi: 10.1093/texcom/tgaa022. eCollection 2020.


γ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), a primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, plays a significant role in aging and in neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's disease (AD). We investigated the relationship between GABA levels in the dorsomedial/dorsoanterolateral prefrontal cortex (DM/DA-PFC) and memory in high-AD risk participants. Thirty-eight participants (14 Cognitively Normal [CN], 11 with Subjective Cognitive Decline (SCD), and 13 Mild Cognitive Impairment [MCI]) underwent magnetic resonance spectroscopy at 3 Tesla. SCD and MCI participants were grouped together to form a single high-AD risk group (N = 24) for the purposes of statistical analyses. Partial correlations of GABA+/Cr level with verbal memory, assessed on California Verbal Learning Test-II, and nonverbal memory, assessed on Brief Visuospatial Memory Test and Rey-Osterrieth test, were examined separately within the high-AD risk and CN groups. GABA+/Cr levels were positively correlated with long-delayed verbal memory (r = 0.69, P = 0.009) and immediate nonverbal memory (r = 0.97, P = 0.03) in high-AD risk, but not in CN participants. These results remained significant after controlling for depression. These preliminary findings, which require replication due to the limited sample sizes, are the first report of an association between GABA+/Cr levels within the DM/DA-PFC and memory performance in high-AD risk individuals.

Keywords: cognition; magnetic resonance spectroscopy; nonverbal memory; verbal memory; γ-aminobutyric acid.