, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 235-245
Date: 15 Jun 2007

Dynamic Relationship Between Neurostimulation and N-Acetylaspartate Metabolism in the Human Visual Cortex

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N-acetyl-l-aspartic acid (NAA), an amino acid synthesized and stored primarily in neurons in the brain, has been proposed to be a molecular water pump (MWP) whose function is to rapidly remove water from neurons against a water gradient. In this communication, we describe the results of a functional 1H proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (fMRS) study, and provide evidence that in the human visual cortex, over a 10-min period of visual stimulation, there are stimulation-induced graded changes in the NAA MRS signal from that of a preceding 10-min baseline period with a decline in the NAA signal of 13.1% by the end of the 10-min stimulation period. Upon cessation of visual stimulation, the NAA signal gradually increases during a 10-min recovery period and once again approaches the baseline level. Because the NAA MRS signal reflects the NAA concentration, these changes indicate rapid focal changes in its concentration, and transient changes in its intercompartmental metabolism. These include its rates of synthesis and efflux from neurons and its hydrolysis by oligodendrocytes. During stimulation, the apparent rate of NAA efflux and hydrolysis increased 14.2 times, from 0.55 to 7.8 μmol g−1 h−1. During recovery, the apparent rate of synthesis increased 13.3 times, from 0.55 to 7.3 μmol g−1 h−1. The decline in the NAA signal during stimulation suggests that a rapid increase in the rate of NAA-obligated water release to extracellular fluid (ECF) is the initial and seminal event in response to neurostimulation. It is concluded that the NAA metabolic cycle in the visual cortex is intimately linked to rates of neuronal signaling, and that the functional cycle of NAA is associated with its release to ECF, thus supporting the hypothesis that an important function of the NAA metabolic cycle is that of an efflux MWP.