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Intrusive memories, images, and hallucinations are hallmark symptoms of psychiatric disorders. Although often attributed to deficient inhibitory control by the prefrontal cortex, difficulty in controlling intrusive thoughts is also associated with hippocampal hyperactivity, arising from dysfunctional GABAergic interneurons. How hippocampal GABA contributes to stopping unwanted thoughts is unknown. Here we show that GABAergic inhibition of hippocampal retrieval activity forms a key link in a fronto-hippocampal inhibitory control pathway underlying thought suppression. Subjects viewed reminders of unwanted thoughts and tried to suppress retrieval while being scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging. Suppression reduced hippocampal activity and memory for suppressed content. 1H magnetic resonance spectroscopy revealed that greater resting concentrations of hippocampal GABA predicted better mnemonic control. Higher hippocampal, but not prefrontal GABA, predicted stronger fronto-hippocampal coupling during suppression, suggesting that interneurons local to the hippocampus implement control over intrusive thoughts. Stopping actions did not engage this pathway. These findings specify a multi-level mechanistic model of how the content of awareness is voluntarily controlled.
Schmitz, T. W., Correia, M. M., Ferreira, C. S., Prescot, A. P., & Anderson, M. C. (2017). Hippocampal GABA enables inhibitory control over unwanted thoughts. Nature Communications, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-017-00956-z