Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (1H MRS): A Practical Guide for the Clinical Neuroscientist

  • Andreana P. Haley
  • Jack Knight-Scott


Nuclear magnetic resonance emerged in the early 1970s as a tool for elucidating the structure of organic molecules. Since that time, its applications have since expanded into multiple other areas. In 1995, magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for clinical use including differential diagnosis and treatment monitoring in medical conditions such as cancer and multiple sclerosis. The principles of MRS are very similar to those of MRI. Briefly, MRS is founded on the observation that the nuclei of atoms with odd atomic numbers possess a small detectable magnetic field. According to the laws of electromagnetism, all moving charges constitute electrical currents, which generate magnetic fields in their neighborhoods, and thus cause the individual nuclei to possess a “magnetic moment.” In other words, the individual nuclei behave like magnetic dipoles and rotate around their axes or oscillate much like the Earth around its axis. The strength of this magnetic moment and oscillation frequency are unique to each nuclear species. The nuclei themselves are often referred to as “spins.” Under normal conditions, spins are randomly arranged; however, when exposed to a strong external magnetic field, such as the one created by the magnet of a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, the spins align along the axis of the external field. While the spins are aligned with the external magnetic field, a radio frequency pulse at their resonance frequency can excite or “flip” the spins. After the pulse is discontinued, the nuclei relax or return to their original state, but in doing so, these oscillating spins generate a weak magnetic field that is detected by special coils. The signal detected by these coils is called the free induction decay or FID. In the case of MRI, the signal from the highly abundant water molecules in the brain is reconstructed into an image providing structural information about the tissue sample using a mathematical process called Fast Fourier Transformation. The location of various water molecules is spatially encoded through an imposed frequency distribution with the help of additional magnetic gradients.


Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Free Induction Decay Water Suppression Radio Frequency Pulse Brain Gray Matter 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. 1.
    Angelie E, Bonmartin A, Boudraa A, Gonnaud PM, Mallet JJ, Sappey-Marinier D. Regional differences and metabolic changes in normal aging of the human brain: proton MR spectroscopic imaging study. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2001;22:119–127.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Berry GT, Wang ZJ, Dreha SF, Finucane BM, Zimmerman RA. In vivo brain myo-inositol levels in children with Down syndrome. J Pediatr. 1999;135:94–97.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Birken DL, Oldendorf WH. N-acetyl-l-aspartic acid: a literature review of a compound prominent in 1H-NMR spectroscopic studies of brain. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1989;13:23–31.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Bitsch A, Bruhn H, Vougioukas V, et al. Inflammatory CNS demyelination: histopathologic correlation with in vivo quantitative proton MR spectroscopy. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 1999;20:1619–1627.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Brand A, Engelmann J, Leibfritz D. A 13C NMR study on fluxes into the TCA cycle of neuronal and glial tumor cell lines and primary cells. Biochimie. 1992;74:941–948.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Brooks WM, Friedman SD, Gasparovic C. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy in traumatic brain injury. J Head Trauma Rehabil. 2001;16:149–164.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Chang L, Ernst T, Poland RE, Jenden DJ. In vivo proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy of the normal aging human brain. Life Sci. 1996;58:2049–2056.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Clarke CE, Lowry M. Systematic review of proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy of the striatum in Parkinsonian syndromes. Eur J Neurol. 2001;8:573–577.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Danielsen ER, Ross B. Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Diagnosis of Neurological Diseases. New York, NY: Marcel Dekker; 1999.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Dautry C, Vaufrey F, Brouillet E, et al. Early N-acetylaspartate depletion is a marker of neuronal dysfunction in rats and primates chronically treated with the mitochondrial toxin 3-nitropropionic acid. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2000;20: 789–799.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Davie CA, Hawkins CP, Barker GJ, et al. Serial proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy in acute multiple sclerosis lesions. Brain. 1994;117(Pt 1):49–58.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    De Stefano N, Matthews PM, Arnold DL. Reversible decreases in N-acetylaspartate after acute brain injury. Magn Reson Med. 1995;34:721–727.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Fisher SK, Heacock AM, Agranoff BW. Inositol lipids and signal transduction in the nervous system: an update. J Neurochem. 1992;58:18–38.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Gillard JH, Barker PB, van Zijl PC, Bryan RN, Oppenheimer SM. Proton MR spectroscopy in acute middle cerebral artery stroke. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 1996;17:873–886.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Govindaraju V, Young K, Maudsley AA. Proton NMR chemical shifts and coupling constants for brain metabolites. NMR Biomed. 2000;13:129–153.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Gruetter R, Garwood M, Ugurbil K, Seaquist ER. Observation of resolved glucose signals in 1H NMR spectra of the human brain at 4 Tesla. Magn Reson Med. 1996;36:1–6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Huppi PS, Posse S, Lazeyras F, Burri R, Bossi E, Herschkowitz N. Magnetic resonance in preterm and term newborns: 1H-spectroscopy in developing human brain. Pediatr Res. 1991;30:574–578.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Katz-Brull R, Lavin PT, Lenkinski RE. Clinical utility of proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy in characterizing breast lesions. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002;94:1197–1203.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Knight-Scott J, Haley AP, Rossmiller SR, et al. Molality as a unit of measure for expressing 1H MRS brain metabolite concentrations in vivo. Magn Reson Imaging. 2003;21: 787–797.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Kreis R, Ernst T, Ross BD. Development of the human brain: in vivo quantification of metabolite and water content with proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Magn Reson Med. 1993;30:424–437.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Leary SM, Brex PA, MacManus DG, et al. A (1)H magnetic resonance spectroscopy study of aging in parietal white matter: implications for trials in multiple sclerosis. Magn Reson Imaging. 2000;18:455–459.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Li X, Lu Y, Pirzkall A, McKnight T, Nelson SJ. Analysis of the spatial characteristics of metabolic abnormalities in newly diagnosed glioma patients. J Magn Reson Imaging. 2002;16:229–237.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Miller BL, Moats RA, Shonk T, Ernst T, Woolley S, Ross BD. Alzheimer disease: depiction of increased cerebral myo-inositol with proton MR spectroscopy. Radiology. 1993;187:433–437.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Moats RA, Ernst T, Shonk TK, Ross BD. Abnormal cerebral metabolite concentrations in patients with probable Alzheimer disease. Magn Reson Med. 1994;32:110–115.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Murata T, Koshino Y, Omori M, et al. In vivo proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy study on premature aging in adult Down’s syndrome. Biol Psychiatry. 1993;34:290–297.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Naressi A, Couturier C, Devos JM, et al. Java-based graphical user interface for the MRUI quantitation package. MAGMA. 2001;12:141–152.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Parnetti L, Tarducci R, Presciutti O, et al. Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy can differentiate Alzheimer’s disease from normal aging. Mech Ageing Dev. 1997;97:9–14.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Paul RH, Ernst T, Brickman AM, et al. Relative sensitivity of magnetic resonance spectroscopy and quantitative magnetic resonance imaging to cognitive function among nondemented individuals infected with HIV. J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2008;14:725–733.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Pfefferbaum A, Adalsteinsson E, Spielman D, Sullivan EV, Lim KO. In vivo spectroscopic quantification of the N-acetyl moiety, creatine, and choline from large volumes of brain gray and white matter: effects of normal aging. Magn Reson Med. 1999;41:276–284.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Provencher SW. Estimation of metabolite concentrations from localized in vivo proton NMR spectra. Magn Reson Med. 1993;30:672–679.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Sappey-Marinier D, Calabrese G, Hetherington HP, et al. Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy of human brain: applications to normal white matter, chronic infarction, and MRI white matter signal hyperintensities. Magn Reson Med. 1992;26:313–327.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Saunders DE, Howe FA, van den Boogaart A, Griffiths JR, Brown MM. Aging of the adult human brain: in vivo ­quantitation of metabolite content with proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy. J Magn Reson Imaging. 1999;9: 711–716.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Schuff N, Amend DL, Knowlton R, Norman D, Fein G, Weiner MW. Age-related metabolite changes and volume loss in the hippocampus by magnetic resonance spectroscopy and imaging. Neurobiol Aging. 1999;20:279–285.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Stryer L. Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular, and Medical Aspects. New York: Raven; 1988.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Urenjak J, Williams SR, Gadian DG, Noble M. Specific expression of N-acetylaspartate in neurons, oligodendrocyte-type-2 astrocyte progenitors, and immature oligodendrocytes in vitro. J Neurochem. 1992;59:55–61.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Valenzuela MJ, Sachdev P. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy in AD. Neurology. 2001;56:592–598.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    van der Knaap MS, van der Grond J, van Rijen PC, Faber JA, Valk J, Willemse K. Age-dependent changes in localized proton and phosphorus MR spectroscopy of the brain. Radiology. 1990;176:509–515.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

Personalised recommendations