The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology

Brief Report

Low GABA concentrations in occipital cortex and anterior cingulate cortex in medication-free, recovered depressed patients

Zubin Bhagwagara1, Marzena Wylezinskaa2, Peter Jezzarda2, John Evansa2a3, Erie Boormana3, Paul M. Matthewsa2 and Philip J. Cowena3 c1

a1 Department of Psychiatry, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA

a2 Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, UK

a3 Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Warneford Hospital, Oxford, UK


Studies using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) indicate that unmedicated, acutely depressed patients have decreased levels of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the occipital cortex. The aim of this study was to use 1H-MRS to determine if changes in occipital and frontal cortical GABA levels were present in patients with a history of depression who had recovered and were no longer taking medication. We used 1H-MRS to measure levels of GABA in both occipital cortex and anterior cingulate cortex/prefrontal cortex in medication-free, fully recovered subjects with a history of recurrent unipolar depression. Levels of GABA in both occipital and anterior cingulate cortex were significantly lower in recovered depressed subjects than healthy controls. Our data provide preliminary evidence that a history of recurrent depression is associated with decreased GABA levels in anterior cingulate cortex and occipital cortex. These changes could represent part of the neurobiological vulnerability to recurrent depressive episodes.

(Received February 19 2007)

(Reviewed May 06 2007)

(Revised May 09 2007)

(Accepted May 31 2007)

(Online publication July 11 2007)

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c1 Address for correspondence: Professor P. J. Cowen, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Warneford Hospital, Oxford OX3 7JX, UK. Tel.: +44 1865 226394 Fax: +44 1865 251076 E-mail: