GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid)What are the key functions of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in producing the effects of various sedative-hypnotic agents, with specific reference to benzodiazepines.

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marbar57 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

GABA is instrumental in helping promote a feeling of calm and well-being in people. It is one of three such neurotransmitters; the other two are seratonin and norepinephrine. Here's how it works: GABA is supposed to be present in the brain to enable the nerves to fire properly and produce nerve impulses that jump across the synapse (space between the nerve endings) and move along neural pathways. Some people have a deficiency of GABA in their brains so their nerves don't work properly and the impulses don't travel where they should. Some nerves misfire; some don't fire at all; And, some nerve impulses race faster than they need to. This can cause people's brains to act like shorted-out fuse boxes! This can cause panic attacks, depression, mood swings, convulsions, and bipolar disorder.

Benzodiazepines enhance the activity of GABA in a person's brain, slowing down and correcting abnormal nerve impulses throughout the body.  First there's a calming (anti-anxiety) effect, following by a sedative (or hypnotic) effect. 

When benzodiazepines are given to some patients, they show a marked improvement in behavior. They tend to be more alert, more attentive, and less depressed. With some patients, however, the effect is to produce a more sedate, less agitated, more relaxed person. It just depends on each individual patient.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The key function of the non-essential amino acid GABA is to lower neuro-activity in the brain to block anxiety and stress messages from reaching the motor control centers of the brain and thus producing an anxiety or stress reaction. It is now being used as a tranquilizer that is non-addictive. Overuse can cause a reversal of its effects and actually produce the symptoms it normally suppresses so great care must be taken.