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Pediatr Neurol. 2009 May;40(5):327-42. doi: 10.1016/j.pediatrneurol.2008.11.001.

Human fetal brain chemistry as detected by proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

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Foundation Instituto di Ricerca e Cura a Carattere Scientifico Policlinico, Mangiagalli and Regina Elena, University of Milan, Milan, Italy.


Magnetic resonance spectroscopy represents an invaluable tool for the in vivo study of brain development at the chemistry level. Whereas magnetic resonance spectroscopy has received wide attention in pediatric and adult settings, only a few studies were performed on the human fetal brain. They revealed changes occurring throughout gestation in the levels of the main metabolites detected by proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (N-acetylaspartate, choline, myo-inositol, creatine, and glutamate), providing a reference for the normal metabolic brain development. Throughout the third trimester of gestation, N-acetylaspartate gradually increases, whereas choline undergoes a slow reduction during the process of myelination. Less clear are the modifications in creatine, myo-inositol, and glutamate levels. Under conditions of fetal distress, the meaning of lactate detection is unclear, and further studies are needed. Another field for investigation involves the possibility of early detection of glutamate levels in fetuses at risk for hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, because the role of glutamate excitotoxicity in this context is well-established. Because metabolic modifications may precede functional or morphologic changes in the central nervous system, magnetic resonance spectroscopy may likely serve as a powerful, noninvasive tool for the early diagnosis and prognosis of different pathologic conditions.

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