GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in human brain. The level of GABA varies substantially across individuals, and this variability is associated with interindividual differences in visual perception. However, it remains unclear whether the association between GABA level and visual perception reflects a general influence of visual inhibition or whether the GABA levels of different cortical regions selectively influence perception of different visual features. To address this, we studied how the GABA levels of parietal and occipital cortices related to interindividual differences in size, orientation, and brightness perception. We used visual contextual illusion as a perceptual assay since the illusion dissociates perceptual content from stimulus content and the magnitude of the illusion reflects the effect of visual inhibition. Across individuals, we observed selective correlations between the level of GABA and the magnitude of contextual illusion. Specifically, parietal GABA level correlated with size illusion magnitude but not with orientation or brightness illusion magnitude; in contrast, occipital GABA level correlated with orientation illusion magnitude but not with size or brightness illusion magnitude. Our findings reveal a region- and feature-dependent influence of GABA level on human visual perception. Parietal and occipital cortices contain, respectively, topographic maps of size and orientation preference in which neural responses to stimulus sizes and stimulus orientations are modulated by intraregional lateral connections. We propose that these lateral connections may underlie the selective influence of GABA on visual perception.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT GABA, the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in human visual system, varies substantially across individuals. This interindividual variability in GABA level is linked to interindividual differences in many aspects of visual perception. However, the widespread influence of GABA raises the question of whether interindividual variability in GABA reflects an overall variability in visual inhibition and has a general influence on visual perception or whether the GABA levels of different cortical regions have selective influence on perception of different visual features. Here we report a region- and feature-dependent influence of GABA level on human visual perception. Our findings suggest that GABA level of a cortical region selectively influences perception of visual features that are topographically mapped in this region through intraregional lateral connections.