Symptoms Associated with Abnormal GABA Levels

From brainmatrix

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) plays a major role in neuronal inhibition. It occurs naturally in several foods, but it is found in higher levels in fermented food products.[1] In Japan, it is used deliberately as a functional food ingredient for health benefits. Research on the safety of using GABA as a supplement has shown that taking 18 grams per day for 4 days or 120 mg per day for 12 weeks does not produce adverse events.[2] Some studies have shown that a moderate drop in blood pressure has occurred with GABA intake. The ubiquity of GABA within the central nervous system makes it difficult to delineate its specific effects.

See Paredes and Agmo for deeper information on most of the following.

Affective Disorders and Mood[edit]

Anxiety. GABA has a clear role in fear and anxiety disorders.[3][4][5][6] GABA administration has been shown to reduce anxiety and worry and to induce relaxation in humans.[1][7] At the same time, negative modulators of GABA receptors are known to have anxiogenic-like effects.[4] The specific mechanism by which GABA mediates fear appears to be gender dependent.[8]

One way GABA may impact anxiety is via its impact on fear memory.[9] Drugs that facilitate the transmission of GABA have been shown to interrupt fear memory formation and storage.[9]

Depression. GABA appears to play a role in depression.[4][10][11][12] The GABA hypothesis of depression posits that modulators of the α2/α3 GABAA receptor may be valuable antidepressants.[5] Reduced GABAergic functioning is generally associated with depression, and thus antidepressants that leverage the GABA system aim to increase GABA.[4]

Mood. Emrich first postulated a role for GABA in mood in 1980.[13] GABA has since been shown to play a role in mood and to be capable of stabilizing mood.[1][4][14] For instance, sodium valproate, which blocks GABA transmission, is used to treat bipolar disorder.[15]

Stress. Stress is known to deplete GABA and requires replacement of the metabolite through, for instance, enriched functional foods.[1] Thus unsurprisingly, the administration of GABA is known to reduce stress.[3]

Psychosis. Psychosis may be influenced by GABA functioning.[16]

Autism. GABA inhibition is implicated in autism spectrum disorder as well as other developmental disorders.[17]


Cognition. Altered GABA transmission is linked to cognitive functions.[18] Specifically, whereas lowered GABA is associated with reduced cognitive control, GABA has been shown to enhance memory.[3][19]

Attention. GABA is implicated in scattered attention and difficulty in focusing on one task.[17][19] For instance, altered levels of GABA have been observed in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, potentially owing to its impact on dopaminergic transmission in the striatum.[19][20] Specifically, children with ADHD have lower GABA concentrations than those without the disorder.[17]


Different GABA receptor subtypes have distinct impacts on behavior.[21]

Impulsivity. GABA is implicated in self-control and behavioral inhibition.[19][22][23] Low GABA levels are associated with increased impulsivity, as well as impaired response inhibition.[19]

GABA levels have been shown to be lower in patient groups – like those with Prader-Willi syndrome – who display significant behavioral disturbances that may be related to lack of self-control and a tendency toward impulsivity.[24] These behavioral problems include temper outbursts, social interaction difficulties, skin-picking, and a tendency to be self-absorbed.

Compulsivity. GABA levels in the orbitofrontal cortex of those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is significantly lower than what is observed in those without the disorder.[25]

Sleep. It is well established that GABA enhances sleep and is involved in circadian rhythm.[3] It is also implicated in insomnia and other sleep disturbances.

Physical Symptoms[edit]

Pain. GABA is implicated in pain, though activation of GABA can enhance or minimize pain, depending on the location of activation.[3][7][26][27]

However, generalized activation of GABA appears to reduce the overall response to painful stimuli.[7][26] As such, therapeutic strategies aimed at leveraging the GABA system are developed to increase GABA synthesis.[27] Agonists for both GABAA and GABAB receptors act as analgesics.[21][28]

Headaches. Headaches are one of the manifestations related to changes in GABA transmission that involves pain.[29]

Immunity. GABA administration may bolster immunity through its anxiolytic effects.[1] It may also have antimicrobial and anti-allergy effects.[30] Additionally, GABA appears to have anti-inflammatory properties that may provide health benefits.[2][30]

Cardiovascular function. GABA regulates cardiovascular functions and can impact heart rate.[1][31][32][33][34][35] Research into its ability to combat hypertension is ongoing.[2][30]

Respiration. GABA is found not only in the brain but also in peripheral tissues and in other locations, such as the lungs. Baclofen (a GABAB agonist) has been shown preclinically to inhibit neurally mediated bronchoconstriction.[36]

Motility. Administration of GABA leads to hypomotility, reduced ambulatory activity, and sedation. [21] On the other hand, reduced GABA in the motor cortex is associated with muscle rigidity and spasms, as seen in stiff-person syndrome.[37][38] 

Cancer. GABA may provide antioxidant effects and has been shown to contribute to inhibiting cancer cell metastasis.[1][2][30][16][21]

Renal function. GABA appears to play a role in renal function.[1][12]


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