Organs consist of several types of cells with specialized functions. This cellular localization of function is often referred to as compartmentation. Due to the intrinsic low sensitivity of MR methods it is generally not possible in vivo to obtain images or spectra of single cells. Instead the MRS signal is the sum of the signal from millions of cells and multiple cell types. A major challenge in using MRS to study biological processes such as metabolism and transport is to devise measurements that provide cell-specific information from this mix. Fortunately nature has helped the MR scientist by in several cases nearly completely localizing metabolic pathways and their associated metabolites in specific cell types. The chemical specificity of MRS allows the concentrations and synthesis rates of these metabolites to be measured, providing information about the compartmentation of metabolism and function. In this review examples are presented from MRS studies of metabolic trafficking between neurons and astrocytes in the brain, brain glucose transport, and the role of muscle glucose transport in insulin resistance and diabetes. The concepts and approaches used in these studies are generally applicable for studying cellular metabolic compartmentation in a wide range of systems.
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.