Findings from the first study directly examining gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) concentrations in the brains of children with ADHD were published last week in the Archives of General Psychiatry. In this new article researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center report finding significantly lower concentrations of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the cerebral cortexes of children diagnosed with ADHD, compared with typically developing children. GABA is the brain’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter. The differences were detected in the region of the brain that controls voluntary movement.

The researchers used a relatively innovative and novel technique in which GABA is measured using Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS), reports Dr. Stewart Mostofsky, the study’s senior author and Director of the Laboratory for Neurocognitive and Imaging Research at Kennedy Krieger Institute. Similar to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), MRS uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce images of the brain. The researchers employed it to measure the GABA concentration in a 3 cm by 3 cm section of the primary sensory motor cortex part of the brain that controls the hand. The test revealed that GABA concentrations were significantly lower in the ADHD children, compared with typically developing children.

Mostofsky stressed that this is a preliminary study with a small number of subjects. Replication in a larger sample size will be important. But, if replicated, the finding could open doors for innovative treatment approaches targeting GABA transmission. “There are limitations to stimulant therapies currently in use. It’s important that we consider alternative therapies, and this research will provide a foundation for pursuing novel approaches to diagnosing and treating ADHD,” he says.

For more information:

Richard A. E. Edden, PhD; Deana Crocetti, PhD; He Zhu, PhD; Donald L. Gilbert, MD; Stewart H. Mostofsky, MD. “Reduced GABA Concentration in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” Arch Gen Psychiatry, July, 2012;69(7):750-753.

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