, Volume 39, Issue 5, pp 1139-1145
Date: 19 Jun 2010

Evidence that the tri-cellular metabolism of N-acetylaspartate functions as the brain’s “operating system”: how NAA metabolism supports meaningful intercellular frequency-encoded communications

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N-acetylaspartate (NAA), an acetylated derivative of l-aspartate (Asp), and N-acetylaspartylglutamate (NAAG), a derivative of NAA and l-glutamate (Glu), are synthesized by neurons in brain. However, neurons cannot catabolize either of these substances, and so their metabolism requires the participation of two other cell types. Neurons release both NAA and NAAG to extra-cellular fluid (ECF) upon stimulation, where astrocytes, the target cells for NAAG, hydrolyze it releasing NAA back into ECF, and oligodendrocytes, the target cells for NAA, hydrolyze it releasing Asp to ECF for recycling to neurons. This sequence is unique as it is the only known amino acid metabolic cycle in brain that requires three cell types for its completion. The results of this cycling are two-fold. First, neuronal metabolic water is transported to ECF for its removal from brain. Second, the rate of neuronal activity is coupled with focal hyperemia, providing stimulated neurons with the energy required for transmission of meaningful frequency-encoded messages. In this paper, it is proposed that the tri-cellular metabolism of NAA functions as the “operating system” of the brain, and is essential for normal cognitive and motor activities. Evidence in support of this hypothesis is provided by the outcomes of two human inborn errors in NAA metabolism.