Age-related GABAergic differences in the primary sensorimotor cortex: A multimodal approach combining PET, MRS and TMS

Koen Cuypers, Melina Hehl, June van Aalst, Sima Chalavi, Mark Mikkelsen, Koen Van Laere, Patrick Dupont, Dante Mantini, Stephan P Swinnen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Healthy aging is associated with mechanistic changes in gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the most abundant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the human brain. While previous work mainly focused on magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS)-based GABA+ levels and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)-based GABAA receptor (GABAAR) activity in the primary sensorimotor (SM1) cortex, the aim of the current study was to identify age-related differences in positron emission tomography (PET)-based GABAAR availability and its relationship with GABA+ levels (i.e. GABA with the contribution of macromolecules) and GABAAR activity. For this purpose, fifteen young (aged 20-28 years) and fifteen older (aged 65-80 years) participants were recruited. PET and MRS images were acquired using simultaneous time-of-flight PET/MR to evaluate age-related differences in GABAAR availability (distribution volume ratio with pons as reference region) and GABA+ levels. TMS was applied to identify age-related differences in GABAAR activity by measuring short-interval intracortical inhibition (SICI). Whereas GABAAR availability was significantly higher in the SM cortex of older as compared to young adults (18.5%), there were neither age-related differences in GABA+ levels nor SICI. A correlation analysis revealed no significant associations between GABAAR availability, GABAAR activity and GABA+ levels. Although the exact mechanisms need to be further elucidated, it is possible that a higher GABAAR availability in older adults is a compensatory mechanism to ensure optimal inhibitory functionality during the aging process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117536
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Nov 10 2020


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