Anterior cingulate gamma-aminobutyric acid concentrations and electroconvulsive therapy

Vera J. Erchinger, Jeremy Miller, Thomas Jones, Ute Kessler, Juan Bustillo, Jan Haavik, Jonathan Petrillo, Gregory Ziomek, Åsa Hammar, Ketil J. Oedegaard, Vince D. Calhoun, Shawn M. McClintock, Lars Ersland, Leif Oltedal, Christopher C. Abbott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Objective: The anticonvulsant hypothesis posits that ECT’s mechanism of action is related to enhancement of endogenous anticonvulsant brain mechanisms. Results of prior studies investigating the role of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (“GABA+”, GABA and coedited macromolecules) in the pathophysiology and treatment of depression remain inconclusive. The aim of our study was to investigate treatment-responsive changes of GABA+ in subjects with a depressive episode receiving electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Methods: In total, 41 depressed subjects (DEP) and 35 healthy controls (HC) were recruited at two independent sites in Norway and the USA. MEGA-PRESS was used for investigation of GABA+ in the anterior cingulate cortex. We assessed longitudinal and cross-sectional differences between DEP and HC, as well as the relationship between GABA+ change and change in depression severity and number of ECTs. We also assessed longitudinal differences in cognitive performance and GABA+ levels. Results: Depressive episode did not show a difference in GABA+ relative to HC (t71 = −0.36, p =.72) or in longitudinal analysis (t36 = 0.97, p =.34). Remitters and nonremitters did not show longitudinal (t36 = 1.12, p =.27) or cross-sectional differences in GABA+. GABA+ levels were not related to changes in antidepressant response (t35 = 1.12, p =.27) or treatment number (t36 = 0.05, p =.96). An association between cognitive performance and GABA+ levels was found in DEP that completed cognitive effortful testing (t18 = 2.4, p =.03). Conclusion: Our results failed to support GABA as a marker for depression and abnormal mood state and provide no support for the anticonvulsant hypothesis of ECT. ECT-induced change in GABA concentrations may be related to change in cognitive function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01833
JournalBrain and Behavior
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • depression
  • electroconvulsive therapy
  • gamma-aminobutyric acid
  • magnetic resonance spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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