Effect of moderate altitude on human cerebral metabolite levels: A preliminary, multi-site, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy investigation

Psychiatry Res Neuroimaging. 2021 Aug 30:314:111314. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2021.111314. Epub 2021 Jun 2.


Epidemiological studies show that altitude-of-residence is an independent risk factor for worsening rates of mood disorders, substance abuse, and suicide. Proton (1H) magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) studies in rodent models of moderate-to-high altitude exposure have documented significant alterations in total creatine, glutamate, and myo-inositol, neurometabolites involved in bioenergetic homeostasis and neuronal/glial cell function. This preliminary study utilized 3 Tesla 1H MRS to study anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and parietal-occipital cortex (POC) neurochemistry in healthy subjects residing in Utah (n = 19), Massachusetts (n = 10), and South Carolina (n = 10), to test the hypothesis that individuals residing at moderate altitude (Utah; 1,372 m) would show neurometabolite alterations vs. subjects living at sea level. Expressed as ratios to total N-acetyl aspartate (NAA), Utah participants showed lower ACC (p = 0.03) and POC (p < 0.01) total creatine, a trend towards lower ACC glutamate (p = 0.06), and lower POC myo-inositol (p = 0.02). Study limitations include small sample sizes and uncorrected multiple comparisons. To our knowledge, this is the first MRS investigation to identify potential neurochemical differences in individuals residing at moderate altitudes vs. sea level, warranting future 1H MRS studies in larger cohorts and across a range of altitudes-of-residence.

Keywords: Altitude; Brain; Clinical proton MRS; Creatine; Glutamate; myo-inositol.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Altitude*
  • Aspartic Acid*
  • Creatine
  • Humans
  • Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Utah


  • Aspartic Acid
  • Creatine