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Convuls Ther. 1995 Mar;11(1):3-13.

Effects of electroconvulsive therapy on plasma GABA.

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  • 1Department of Biological Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York, NY, USA.


There are no published data on the effects of seizures on indices of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) function in human subjects. In study 1, the effects of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) on free plasma GABA were studied in 39 inpatients with major depressive disorder. Acutely after ECT, free plasma GABA was significantly reduced for up to 1 h after seizure termination, and this finding replicated strongly in a subgroup of six patients who received a second course of ECT. In a second study at a different site that compared sham ECT and real ECT in seven patients, some doubt was raised about the replicability of the acute effect of ECT on GABA levels. Nonetheless, the strength of the findings in the larger study 1 sample suggests that, unlike virtually all other biochemical indices, free plasma GABA may be reduced acutely after ECT. This acute decrease could reflect decreased levels of GABA in brain extracellular space or decreased brain turnover. In study 1, compared with ECT nonresponders, ECT responders had higher GABA levels at both baseline and after a course of ECT. Because plasma GABA levels are known to be low in a subset of patients with major depression, the higher GABA levels observed in clinical responders before and after the ECT course indirectly suggest that patients least abnormal in GABA levels may show superior clinical response. This also suggests that low plasma GABA is not a state marker for depression.

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