In vivo estimation of gamma-aminobutyric acid levels in the neonatal brain

NMR Biomed. 2017 Jan;30(1):e3666. doi: 10.1002/nbm.3666. Epub 2016 Nov 11.


Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, and plays a key role in brain development. However, the in vivo levels of brain GABA in early life are unknown. Using edited MRS, in vivo GABA can be detected as GABA+ signal with contamination of macromolecule signals. GABA+ is evaluated as the peak ratio of GABA+/reference compound, for which creatine (Cr) or water is typically used. However, the concentrations and T1 and T2 relaxation times of these references change during development. Thus, the peak ratio comparison between neonates and children may be inaccurate. The aim of this study was to measure in vivo neonatal brain GABA+ levels, and to investigate the dependency of GABA levels on brain region and age. The basal ganglia and cerebellum of 38 neonates and 12 children were measured using GABA-edited MRS. Two different approaches were used to obtain GABA+ levels: (i) multiplying the GABA/water ratio by the water concentration; and (ii) multiplying the GABA+/Cr by the Cr concentration. Neonates exhibited significantly lower GABA+ levels compared with children in both regions, regardless of the approach employed, consistent with previous ex vivo data. A similar finding of lower GABA+/water and GABA+/Cr in neonates compared with children was observed, except for GABA+/Cr in the cerebellum. This contrasting finding resulted from significantly lower Cr concentrations in the neonate cerebellum, which were approximately 52% of those of children. In conclusion, care should be taken to consider Cr concentrations when comparing GABA+/Cr levels between different-aged subjects.

Keywords: MEGA-PRESS; gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA); human study; neonates; normal brain; spectroscopic quantitation.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Artifacts*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods*
  • Male
  • Molecular Imaging / methods*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tissue Distribution
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid