J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 72:99-105 doi:10.1136/jnnp.72.1.99
  • Paper

Increases in GABA concentrations during cerebral ischaemia: a microdialysis study of extracellular amino acids

  1. P J Hutchinson1,3,
  2. M T O'Connell1,3,
  3. P G Al-Rawi1,
  4. C R Kett-White1,3,
  5. A K Gupta2,
  6. L B Maskell1,
  7. J D Pickard1,3,
  8. P J Kirkpatrick1,3
  1. 1Academic Department of Neurosurgery, University of Cambridge, Box 167, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge CB2 2QQ, UK
  2. 2Department of Anaesthesia
  3. 3Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre
  1. Correspondence to:
 Mr PJ Hutchinson, Academic Department of Neurosurgery, University of Cambridge, Box 167, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge CB2 2QQ, UK;
  • Received 1 December 2000
  • Accepted 20 July 2001
  • Revised 17 July 2001


Objectives: Increases in the extracellular concentration of the excitatory amino acids glutamate and aspartate during cerebral ischaemia in patients are well recognised. Less emphasis has been placed on the concentrations of the inhibitory amino acid neurotransmitters, notably γ-amino-butyric acid (GABA), despite evidence from animal studies that GABA may act as a neuroprotectant in models of ischaemia. The objective of this study was to investigate the concentrations of various excitatory, inhibitory and non-transmitter amino acids under basal conditions and during periods of cerebral ischaemia in patients with head injury or a subarachnoid haemorrhage.

Methods: Cerebral microdialysis was established in 12 patients with head injury (n=7) or subarachnoid haemorrhage (n=5). Analysis was performed using high performance liquid chromatography for a total of 19 (excitatory, inhibitory and non-transmitter) amino acids. Patients were monitored in neurointensive care or during aneurysm clipping.

Results: During stable periods of monitoring the concentrations of amino acids were relatively constant enabling basal values to be established. In six patients, cerebral ischaemia was associated with increases (up to 1350 fold) in the concentration of GABA, in addition to the glutamate and aspartate. Parallel increases in the concentration of glutamate and GABA were found (r=0.71, p<0.005).

Conclusions: The results suggest that, in the human brain, acute cerebral ischaemia is not accompanied by an imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory amino acids, but by an increase in all neurotransmitter amino acids. These findings concur with the animal models of ischaemia and raise the possibility of an endogenous GABA mediated neuroprotective mechanism in humans.


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