Regional age dependence of human brain metabolites from infancy to adulthood as detected by quantitative localized proton MRS

Petra J.W. Pouwels, Knut Brockmann, Bernd Kruse, Bernd Wilken, Markus Wick, Folker Hanefeld, Jens Frahm

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Regional changes of metabolite concentrations during human brain development were assessed by quantitative localized proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy in vivo. Apart from measurements in young healthy adults, the study was based on regional spectra from 97 children who were either healthy or suffered from mental retardation, movement disorders, epilepsies, neoplasm, or vascular malformation. Metabolite quantitation focused on cortical gray and white matter, cerebellum, thalamus, and basal ganglia in six age groups from infancy to adulthood. During infancy and childhood, the concentration of the neuroaxonally located N-acetylaspartate increased in gray matter, cerebellum, and thalamus, whereas a constant level was detected in white matter. These findings are in line with regional differences in the formation of synaptic connections during early development and suggest a role of N-acetylaspartate as a marker of functioning neuroaxonal tissue rather than of the mere presence of nerve cells. This view is further supported by high concentrations of taurine in gray matter and cerebellum during infancy, because taurine is also believed to be involved in the process of synapse formation. Remarkably, in basal ganglia both N-acetylaspartate and taurine remain constant at relatively high concentrations. Other metabolite changes during maturation include increases of N-acetylaspartylglutamate, especially in thalamus and white matter, and a decrease of glutamine in white matter. Despite regional differences and some small changes during the first year of life, the concentrations of creatine, phosphocreatine, choline-containing compounds, myoinositol, and glutamate remain constant afterward. The creatine to phosphocreatine concentration ratio yields 2:1 throughout the human brain irrespective of region or age. The observed increase of the proton resonance line-width with age is most pronounced in basal ganglia and corresponds to the age-related and tissue-dependent increase of brain iron.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)474-485
Number of pages12
JournalPediatric Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 1999
Externally publishedYes

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