Predicting learning and achievement using GABA and glutamate concentrations in human development

George Zacharopoulos*, Francesco Sella, Kathrin Cohen Kadosh, Charlotte Hartwright, Uzay Emir, Roi Cohen Kadosh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous research has highlighted the role of glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in learning and plasticity. What is currently unknown is how this knowledge translates to real-life complex cognitive abilities that emerge slowly and how the link between these neurotransmitters and human learning and plasticity is shaped by development. While some have suggested a generic role of glutamate and GABA in learning and plasticity, others have hypothesized that their involvement shapes sensitive periods during development. Here we used a cross-sectional longitudinal design with 255 individuals (spanning primary school to university) to show that glutamate and GABA in the intraparietal sulcus explain unique variance both in current and future mathematical achievement (approximately 1.5 years). Furthermore, our findings reveal a dynamic and dissociable role of GABA and glutamate in predicting learning, which is reversed during development, and therefore provide novel implications for models of learning and plasticity during childhood and adulthood.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3001325
JournalPLoS biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Copyright: © 2021 Zacharopoulos et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funding: The Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging is supported by core funding from the Wellcome Trust (203139/Z/16/Z, URL: This work was supported by the European Research Council (Learning & Achievement 338065, URL: (RCK).


  • Gamma-aminobutyric acid
  • Neurotransmitters
  • Glutamate
  • Human learning
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive neurology
  • Reasoning
  • Smart materials


Dive into the research topics of 'Predicting learning and achievement using GABA and glutamate concentrations in human development'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this