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NMR Biomed. 2011 Oct;24(8):943-57. doi: 10.1002/nbm.1772. Epub 2011 Aug 31.

13C MRS studies of neuroenergetics and neurotransmitter cycling in humans.

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Department of Diagnostic Radiology, Magnetic Resonance Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06520-8043, USA.


In the last 25 years, (13)C MRS has been established as the only noninvasive method for the measurement of glutamate neurotransmission and cell-specific neuroenergetics. Although technically and experimentally challenging, (13)C MRS has already provided important new information on the relationship between neuroenergetics and neuronal function, the energy cost of brain function, the high neuronal activity in the resting brain state and how neuroenergetics and neurotransmitter cycling are altered in neurological and psychiatric disease. In this article, the current state of (13)C MRS as it is applied to the study of neuroenergetics and neurotransmitter cycling in humans is reviewed. The focus is predominantly on recent findings in humans regarding metabolic pathways, applications to clinical research and the technical status of the method. Results from in vivo (13)C MRS studies in animals are discussed from the standpoint of the validation of MRS measurements of neuroenergetics and neurotransmitter cycling, and where they have helped to identify key questions to address in human research. Controversies concerning the relationship between neuroenergetics and neurotransmitter cycling and factors having an impact on the accurate determination of fluxes through mathematical modeling are addressed. We further touch upon different (13)C-labeled substrates used to study brain metabolism, before reviewing a number of human brain diseases investigated using (13)C MRS. Future technological developments are discussed that will help to overcome the limitations of (13)C MRS, with special attention given to recent developments in hyperpolarized (13)C MRS.

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