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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012 May;37(6):1548-57. doi: 10.1038/npp.2012.4. Epub 2012 Feb 8.

Reduced γ-aminobutyric acid in occipital and anterior cingulate cortices in primary insomnia: a link to major depressive disorder?

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI, USA.


Insomnia is closely related to major depressive disorder (MDD) both cross-sectionally and longitudinally, and as such, offers potential opportunities to refine our understanding of the neurobiology of both sleep and mood disorders. Clinical and basic science data suggest a role for reduced γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in both MDD and primary insomnia (PI). Here, we have utilized single-voxel proton magnetic spectroscopy (1H-MRS) at 4 Tesla to examine GABA relative to total creatine (GABA/Cr) in the occipital cortex (OC), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and thalamus in 20 non-medicated adults with PI (12 women) and 20 age- and sex-matched healthy sleeper comparison subjects. PI subjects had significantly lower GABA/Cr in the OC (p=0.0005) and ACC (p=0.03) compared with healthy sleepers. There was no significant difference in thalamic GABA/Cr between groups. After correction for multiple comparisons, GABA/Cr did not correlate significantly with insomnia severity measures among PI subjects. This study is the first to demonstrate regional reductions of GABA in PI in the OC and ACC. Reductions in GABA in similar brain regions in MDD using 1H-MRS suggest a common reduction in cortical GABA among PI and mood disorders.

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