Low plasma GABA is a trait-like marker for bipolar illness

Neuropsychopharmacology. 1993 Sep;9(2):125-32. doi: 10.1038/npp.1993.51.


Plasma gamma-aminobutyric acid (pGABA) is an index of brain GABA activity and a peripheral marker of mood disorder. Previous research has indicated that pGABA is abnormally low in approximately 40% of patients symptomatic with primary unipolar depression. We have now measured pGABA in a series of patients with bipolar disorder. Blood samples for GABA determinations were collected soon after admission to hospital or clinic while patients were symptomatic. In both manic and depressed phase bipolar patients, mean levels of pGABA were significantly lower than in healthy control subjects. The distribution of pGABA in bipolar patients, whether manic or depressed, was similar to that in symptomatic unipolar depression, with 30% to 40% having pGABA levels lower than the control range. These data indicate that low pGABA is not specific to the depressed state, as it is also found in the manic phase of bipolar disorder. Low pGABA may represent a shared biologic correlate between bipolar and unipolar illness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers
  • Bipolar Disorder / blood*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Humans
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / blood*


  • Biomarkers
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid