Acute modulation of cortical glutamate and GABA content by physical activity

Richard J Maddock, Gretchen A. Casazza, Dione H. Fernandez, Michael I. Maddock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Converging evidence demonstrates that physical activity evokes a brain state characterized by distinctive changes in brain metabolism and cortical function. Human studies have shown that physical activity leads to a generalized increase in electroencephalography power across regions and frequencies, and a global increase in brain nonoxidative metabolism of carbohydrate substrates. This nonoxidative consumption of carbohydrate has been hypothesized to include increased de novo synthesis of amino acid neurotransmitters, especially glutamate and GABA. Here, we conducted a series of proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy studies in human volunteers before and after vigorous exercise (≥80% of predicted maximal heart rate). Results showed that the resonance signals of both glutamate and GABA increased significantly in the visual cortex following exercise. We further demonstrated a similar increase in glutamate following exercise in an executive region, the anterior cingulate cortex. The increase in glutamate was similar when using echo times of 30 and 144 ms, indicating that exercise-related T2 relaxation effects across this range of relaxation times did not account for the findings. In addition, we found preliminary evidence that more physical activity during the preceding week predicts higher resting glutamate levels. Overall, the results are consistent with an exercise-induced expansion of the cortical pools of glutamate and GABA, and add to a growing understanding of the distinctive brain state associated with physical activity. A more complete understanding of this brain state may reveal important insights into mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of physical exercise in neuropsychiatric disorders, neurorehabilitation, aging, and cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2449-2457
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number8
StatePublished - Feb 24 2016


  • Exercise
  • GABA
  • Glutamate
  • Magnetic resonance spectroscopy
  • Neurotransmitter metabolism
  • Physical activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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