Increased GABA+ in People With Migraine, Headache, and Pain Conditions- A Potential Marker of Pain

Aimie L. Peek, Andrew M. Leaver, Sheryl Foster, Georg Oeltzschner, Nicolaas A. Puts, Graham Galloway, Michele Sterling, Karl Ng, Kathryn Refshauge, Maria Eliza R. Aguila, Trudy Rebbeck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Treatment outcomes for migraine and other chronic headache and pain conditions typically demonstrate modest results. A greater understanding of underlying pain mechanisms may better inform treatments and improve outcomes. Increased GABA+ has been identified in recent studies of migraine, however, it is unclear if this is present in other headache, and pain conditions. We primarily investigated GABA+ levels in the posterior cingulate gyrus (PCG) of people with migraine, whiplash-headache and low back pain compared to age- and sex-matched controls, GABA+ levels in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and thalamus formed secondary aims. Using a cross-sectional design, we studied people with migraine, whiplash-headache or low back pain (n = 56) and compared them with a pool of age- and sex-matched controls (n = 22). We used spectral-edited magnetic resonance spectroscopy at 3T (MEGA-PRESS) to determine levels of GABA+ in the PCG, ACC and thalamus. PCG GABA+ levels were significantly higher in people with migraine and low back pain compared with controls (eg, migraine 4.89 IU ± 0.62 vs controls 4.62 IU ± 0.38; P = .02). Higher GABA+ levels in the PCG were not unique to migraine and could reflect a mechanism of chronic pain in general. A better understanding of pain at a neurochemical level informs the development of treatments that target aberrant brain neurochemistry to improve patient outcomes. Perspective: This study provides insights into the underlying mechanisms of chronic pain. Higher levels of GABA+ in the PCG may reflect an underlying mechanism of chronic headache and pain conditions. This knowledge may help improve patient outcomes through developing treatments that specifically address this aberrant brain neurochemistry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1631-1645
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Pain
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • 1-HMRS
  • GABA+
  • MRS
  • Pain
  • Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Increased GABA+ in People With Migraine, Headache, and Pain Conditions- A Potential Marker of Pain'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this