In vivo NMR studies of the glutamate neurotransmitter flux and neuroenergetics: implications for brain function

Annu Rev Physiol. 2003;65:401-27. doi: 10.1146/annurev.physiol.65.092101.142131. Epub 2002 May 1.


Until very recently, non-invasive measurement of the glutamate-glutamine cycle in the intact mammalian brain had not been possible. In this review, we describe some studies that have led to quantitative assessment of the glutamate-glutamine cycle (Vcyc), as well as other important metabolic fluxes (e.g., glucose oxidation, CMRglc(ox)), with (13)C magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) in vivo. These (13)C MRS studies clearly demonstrate that glutamate released from presynaptic neurons is taken up by the astrocyte for subsequent glutamine synthesis. Contrary to the earlier concept of a small, metabolically inactive neurotransmitter pool, in vivo (13)C MRS studies demonstrate that glutamate release and recycling is a major metabolic pathway that cannot be distinguished from its actions of neurotransmission. Furthermore, the in vivo (13)C MRS studies demonstrate in the rat cerebral cortex that increases in Vcyc and neuronal CMRglc(ox) are linearly related with a close to 1:1 slope. Measurements in human cerebral cortex are in agreement with this result. This relationship is consistent with more than two thirds of the energy yielded by glucose oxidation being used to support events associated with glutamate neurotransmission, and it supports a molecular model of a stoichiometric coupling between glutamate neurotransmission and functional glucose oxidation. (13)C MRS measurements of resting human cerebral cortex have found a high level of glutamate-glutamine cycling. This high resting neuronal activity, which is subtracted away in brain mapping studies by positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), has significant implications for the interpretations of functional imaging data. Here we review and discuss the importance of neurotransmission and neuroenergetics as measured by (13)C MRS for understanding brain function and interpreting fMRI.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cell Communication / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods*
  • Neuroglia / cytology
  • Neuroglia / metabolism
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism


  • Glutamic Acid