Chemical mapping of anxiety in the brain of healthy humans: an in vivo 1H-MRS study on the effects of sex, age, and brain region

Hum Brain Mapp. 2000 Dec;11(4):261-72. doi: 10.1002/1097-0193(200012)11:4<261::aid-hbm30>;2-6.


We recently presented results in an in vivo study of human brain chemistry in 'physiologic' anxiety, i.e., the anxiety of normal everyday life. Normal subjects with high anxiety demonstrated increased concentration of chemicals in orbital frontal cortex (OFC) as compared to lower anxiety. In a separate study of aging we demonstrated a decrease of total chemical concentration in OFC of middle-aged subjects, as compared with younger age. This brain region also showed gender dependence; men demonstrating decreased chemical concentration compared to women. We hypothesized that these sex- and age-dependent differences in OFC chemistry changes are a result of anxiety effects on this brain region. In the present study we examined these sex- and age-differential regional brain chemistry changes (as identified by localized in vivo proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy [1H-MRS]) in relation to the state-trait-anxiety (as measured by the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory) in 35 healthy subjects. The concentrations for all nine chemicals of 1H-MRS spectra were measured relative to creatine across multiple brain regions, including OFC in the left hemisphere. Analysis of variance showed anxiety-specific effects on chemical concentration changes in OFC, which were different for both sexes and age groups. Male subjects showed larger effect of anxiety on OFC chemistry as compared to females when the same sex high-anxiety subjects were compared to lower anxiety. Similarly, middle-aged subjects showed larger effect of anxiety on OFC chemistry as compared to younger age when the same age subjects with high anxiety were compared to lower anxiety. Largest effect of anxiety on OFC chemistry was due to changes of N-Acetyl aspartate. The results indicate that the state-trait anxiety has sex- and age-differential patterns on OFC chemistry in healthy humans, providing new information about the neurobiological roots of anxiety.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging / physiology
  • Anxiety / metabolism*
  • Aspartic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Aspartic Acid / metabolism
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain Chemistry*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy*
  • Male
  • Orbit
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Reference Values
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Aspartic Acid
  • N-acetylaspartate