GABAergic modulation of visual gamma and alpha oscillations and its consequences for working memory performance

Diego Lozano-Soldevilla, Niels ter Huurne, Roshan Cools, Ole Jensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)
121 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: Impressive in vitro research in rodents and computational modeling has uncovered the core mechanisms responsible for generating neuronal oscillations. In particular, GABAergic interneurons play a crucial role for synchronizing neural populations. Do these mechanistic principles apply to human oscillations associated with function? To address this, we recorded ongoing brain activity using magnetoencephalography (MEG) in healthy human subjects participating in a double-blind pharmacological study receiving placebo, 0.5 mg and 1.5 mg of lorazepam (LZP; a benzodiazepine upregulating GABAergic conductance). Participants performed a demanding visuospatial working memory (WM) task.

RESULTS: We found that occipital gamma power associated with WM recognition increased with LZP dosage. Importantly, the frequency of the gamma activity decreased with dosage, as predicted by models derived from the rat hippocampus. A regionally specific gamma increase correlated with the drug-related performance decrease. Despite the system-wide pharmacological intervention, gamma power drug modulations were specific to visual cortex: sensorimotor gamma power and frequency during button presses remained unaffected. In contrast, occipital alpha power modulations during the delay interval decreased parametrically with drug dosage, predicting performance impairment. Consistent with alpha oscillations reflecting functional inhibition, LZP affected alpha power strongly in early visual regions not required for the task demonstrating a regional specific occipital impairment.

CONCLUSIONS: GABAergic interneurons are strongly implicated in the generation of gamma and alpha oscillations in human occipital cortex where drug-induced power modulations predicted WM performance. Our findings bring us an important step closer to linking neuronal dynamics to behavior by embracing established animal models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2878-2887
Number of pages10
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number24
Early online date26 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2014


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alpha Rhythm
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • GABA Modulators
  • Gamma Rhythm
  • Humans
  • Interneurons
  • Lorazepam
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Young Adult
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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