Simultaneous quantification of GABA, Glx and GSH in the neonatal human brain using magnetic resonance spectroscopy

Neuroimage. 2021 Jun;233:117930. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.117930. Epub 2021 Mar 9.


Balance between inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitter systems and the protective role of the major antioxidant glutathione (GSH) are central to early healthy brain development. Disruption has been implicated in the early life pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders and neurodevelopmental conditions including Autism Spectrum Disorder. Edited magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) methods such as HERMES have great potential for providing important new non-invasive insights into these crucial processes in human infancy. In this work, we describe a systematic approach to minimise the impact of specific technical challenges inherent to acquiring MRS data in a neonatal population, including automatic segmentation, full tissue-correction and optimised GABA+ fitting and consider the minimum requirements for a robust edited-MRS acquisition. With this approach we report for the first time simultaneous GABA+, Glx (glutamate + glutamine) and GSH concentrations in the neonatal brain (n = 18) in two distinct regions (thalamus and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)) using edited MRS at 3T. The improved sensitivity provided by our method allows specific regional neurochemical differences to be identified including: significantly lower Glx and GSH ratios to total creatine in the thalamus compared to the ACC (p < 0.001 for both), and significantly higher GSH levels in the ACC following tissue-correction (p < 0.01). Furthermore, in contrast to adult GABA+ which can typically be accurately fitted with a single peak, all neonate spectra displayed a characteristic doublet GABA+ peak at 3 ppm, indicating a lower macromolecule (MM) contribution to the 3 ppm signal in neonates. Relatively high group-level variance shows the need to maximise voxel size/acquisition time in edited neonatal MRS acquisitions for robust estimation of metabolites. Application of this method to study how these levels and balance are altered by early-life brain injury or genetic risk can provide important new knowledge about the pathophysiology underlying neurodevelopmental disorders.

Keywords: Edited-MRS; GABA; GSH; Glutamate; Neonate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Glutamine / metabolism*
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / diagnostic imaging
  • Gyrus Cinguli / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods*
  • Male
  • Thalamus / diagnostic imaging
  • Thalamus / metabolism
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • Glutamine
  • Glutamic Acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Glutathione