Functional neuroimaging metrics are thought to reflect changes in neurotransmitter flux, but changes in neurotransmitter levels have not been demonstrated in humans during a cognitive task, and the relationship between neurotransmitter dynamics and hemodynamic activity during cognition has not yet been established. We evaluate the concentration of the major inhibitory (GABA) and excitatory (glutamate + glutamine: Glx) neurotransmitters and the cerebral perfusion at rest and during a prolonged delayed match-to-sample working memory task. Resting GABA levels in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex correlated positively with the resting perfusion and inversely with the change in perfusion during the task. Further, only GABA increased significantly during the first working memory run and then decreased continuously across subsequent task runs. The decrease of GABA over time was paralleled by a trend towards decreased reaction times and higher task accuracy. These results demonstrate a link between neurotransmitter dynamics and hemodynamic activity during working memory, indicating that functional neuroimaging metrics depend on the balance of excitation and inhibition required for cognitive processing.
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