In the brain, GABA is produced from glutamate in a single decarboxylation reaction. Isoforms of glutamic acid decarbocylase, the enzyme used for conversion, are expressed in tissues other than the brain, where they play a role in diseases of autoimmune character, including neurological disorders and insulin-dependent diabetes.
Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers used by neurons to communicate with one another and with other types of cells. Every neurotransmitter behaves differently; inhibitory neurotransmitters tend to calm, while excitatory neurotransmitters tend stimulate the brain.
GABA’s primary function
GABA’s primary function as the brain’s major inhibitory neurotransmitter is to prevent overstimulation. It does this by counteracting glutamate—the brain’s major excitatory neurotransmitter. When GABA binds to a receptor, it prevents stimulation by glutamate. When GABA levels are inadequate, overstimulation due to high levels of glutamate can occur and lead to symptoms of low GABA.
High levels may reflect decreased ability to convert to succinate for use in the Krebs (citric acid) cycle for energy generation. Cofactors here are α-KG and vitamin B6.
Low levels in plasma are characterized of one subset of patients with depression. The neurodegenerative condition, Huntington’s disease, also manifests as lowered levels of GABA as neuron loss proceeds. Vitamin B6 deficiency impairs GABA formation, offering one option to help assist patients with inadequate GABA production.
Low GABA levels have been found in:
- panic anxiety
- bipolar disorders
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