Proton MR spectroscopy (1H-MRS) has been used to assess regional neurochemical brain changes during normal ageing, but results have varied. Exploiting the increased sensitivity at ultra-high field, we performed 1H-MRS in 60 healthy human volunteers to asses age-related differences in metabolite levels and their relation to cognitive ageing. Sex was balanced, and participants were assigned to a younger, middle, and older group according to their age, ranging from 18 to 79 years. They underwent 7T 1H-MRS of the ACC, DLPFC, hippocampus, and thalamus and performed a visuospatial working memory task outside the scanner. A multivariate ANCOVA revealed a significant overall effect of age group on metabolite levels in all regions. Higher levels in the middle than the younger group were observed for myo-inositol (mIns) in DLPFC and hippocampus and total choline (tCho) in ACC. Higher levels in the older than the younger group were observed for mIns in hippocampus and thalamus, total creatine (tCr) and tCho in ACC and hippocampus; lower levels of glutamate (Glu) were observed in DLPFC. Higher levels in the older than the middle group were observed for mIns in hippocampus, tCr in ACC and hippocampus, tCho in hippocampus, and total N-acetyl aspartate (tNAA) in hippocampus. Working memory performance correlated negatively with tCr and tCho levels in ACC and mIns levels in hippocampus and thalamus, but not with tNAA or glutamate levels. As NAA and Glu are commonly regarded to reflect neuronal health and function and concentrations of mIns, tCr, and tCho are higher in glia than neurons, the findings of this study suggest a potential in vivo connection between cognitive ageing and higher regional levels of glia-related metabolites.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Neurochemical ageing is an integral component of age-related cognitive decline. Proton MR spectroscopy (1H-MRS) studies of in vivo neurochemical changes across the lifespan have, however, yielded inconclusive results. 1H-MRS at ultra-high field strength can potentially improve the consistency of findings. Using 7T 1H-MRS, we assessed levels of mIns, tCr, and tCho (glia-related metabolites) and tNAA and Glu (neuron-related metabolites) in ACC, DLPFC, hippocampus, and thalamus. We found higher levels of glia-related metabolites in all brain regions in older individuals. Working memory performance correlated negatively with regional levels of glia-related metabolites. This study is the first to investigate normal ageing in these brain regions using 7T 1H-MRS and findings indicate that glia-related metabolites could be valuable in cognitive ageing studies.
Keywords: ACC; ageing; cognition; hippocampus; neurochemistry; thalamus.
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