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Can J Psychiatry. 2002 May;47(4):315-26.

In vivo magnetic resonance spectroscopy and its application to neuropsychiatric disorders.

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Department of Psychiatry, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.


In vivo magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) is the only noninvasive imaging technique that can directly assess the living biochemistry in localized brain regions. In the past decade, spectroscopy studies have shown biochemical alterations in various neuropsychiatric disorders. These first-generation studies have, in most cases, been exploratory but have provided insightful biochemical information that has furthered our understanding of different brain disorders. This review provides a brief description of spectroscopy, followed by a literature review of key spectroscopy findings in schizophrenia, affective disorders, and autism. In schizophrenia, phosphorus spectroscopy studies have shown altered metabolism of membrane phospholipids (MPL) during the early course of the illness, which is consistent with a neurodevelopmental abnormality around the critical period of adolescence when the illness typically begins. Children and adolescents who are at increased genetic risk for schizophrenia show similar MPL alterations, suggesting that schizophrenia subjects with a genetic predisposition may have a premorbid neurodevelopmental abnormality. Independent of medication status, bipolar subjects in the depressive state tended to have higher MPL precursor levels and a deficit of high-energy phosphate metabolites, which also is consistent with major depression, though these results varied. Further bipolar studies are needed to investigate alterations at the early stage. Lastly, associations between prefrontal metabolism of high-energy phosphate and MPL and neuropsychological performance and reduced N-acetylaspartate in the temporal and cerebellum regions have been reported in individuals with autism. These findings are consistent with developmental alterations in the temporal lobe and in the cerebellum of persons with autism. This paper discusses recent findings of new functions of N-acetylaspartate.

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