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Impaired brain GABA in focal dystonia

Authors

  • Lucien M. Levy MD, PhD,

    Corresponding author
    1. Neuroimaging Branch, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD
    • Neuroimaging Branch, National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Building 10, 5D20 Bethesda, MD 20892
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    • Dr Levy is also presently at George Washington University Medical Center, Neuroradiology section, Dept. of Radiology, Washington, DC 20037.

  • Mark Hallett MD

    1. Medical Neurology Branch, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD
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Abstract

Patients with task-specific dystonia (writer's cramp) have impaired cortical inhibition likely arising from striatal dysfunction. However, the levels of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brains of these patients are not known. In this study, we evaluated 7 patients with right-sided focal, task-specific dystonia and 17 normal control subjects. A novel method using two-dimensional J-resolved magnetic resonance spectroscopy revealed that brain GABA levels are decreased in specific brain regions of the focal dystonia patients compared to normal controls. A significant decrease in GABA level was observed in the sensorimotor cortex and lentiform nuclei contralateral to the affected hand, while there was only a small nonsignificant decrease in the ipsilateral sensorimotor cortex and lentiform nuclei. GABA changes in the posterior occipital region of patients were not significant. The impaired cortical GABA level correlates with prior physiologic studies showing reduced intracortical inhibition. Reduced GABA in the striatum is consistent with striatal dysfunction since GABA is a principal neurotransmitter in that region. The reduction of brain GABA in dystonia patients may explain the clinical symptomatology of focal dystonia. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy may be a useful noninvasive tool in the evaluation of regional brain GABA changes and in monitoring the effects of various therapies.

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