Glutamine + glutamate level predicts the magnitude of microstructural organization in the gray matter in the healthy elderly

Int Psychogeriatr. 2021 Jan;33(1):21-29. doi: 10.1017/S1041610219001418. Epub 2019 Oct 3.


Background: Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), which is a technique for measuring the degree and direction of movement of water molecules in tissue, has been widely used to noninvasively assess white matter (WM) or gray matter (GM) microstructures in vivo. Mean diffusivity (MD), which is the average diffusion across all directions, has been considered as a marker of WM tract degeneration or extracellular space enlargement in GM. Recent lines of evidence suggest that cortical MD can better identify early-stage Alzheimer's disease than structural morphometric parameters in magnetic resonance imaging. However, knowledge of the relationships between cortical MD and other biological factors in the same cortical region, e.g. metabolites, is still limited.

Methods: Thirty-three healthy elderly individuals [aged 50-77 years (mean, 63.8±7.4 years); 11 males and 22 females] were enrolled. We estimated the associations between cortical MD and neurotransmitter levels. Specifically, we measured levels of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate + glutamine (Glx), which are inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters, respectively, in medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) using MEGA-PRESS magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and we measured regional cortical MD using DTI.

Results: Cortical MD was significantly negatively associated with Glx levels in both mPFC and PCC. No significant association was observed between cortical MD and GABA levels in either GM region.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest that degeneration of microstructural organization in GM, as determined on the basis of cortical MD measured by DTI, is accompanied by the decline of Glx metabolism within the same GM region.

Keywords: diffusion tensor imaging; glutamine + glutamate (Glx); magnetic resonance spectroscopy; mean diffusivity; γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Female
  • Glutamic Acid*
  • Glutamine*
  • Gray Matter* / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • White Matter* / diagnostic imaging


  • Glutamine
  • Glutamic Acid