Organic osmolytes have been implicated in the pathogenesis of myelinolysis because some of them are accumulated slowly during correction of chronic hyponatremia. I investigated whether there was a topographic correlation between demyelinative lesions and the regional changes of organic osmolytes after rapid correction of chronic hyponatremia. In normal female Sprague-Dawley rats, concentrations of glutamate, glutamine, taurine, and betaine were highest in the cerebral cortex and decreased toward the brain stem. Conversely, glycine level was highest in the brainstem, and decreased toward the cortex. Myoinositol, glycerophosphorylcholine, glycerophosphorylethanolamine, and creatine were distributed more evenly. In chronic hyponatremic rats (plasma Na 110 +/- 4 meq/liter), organic osmolytes decreased globally with the total loss ranging from 13 (medulla) to 24 (cerebellum) mmol/kg H2O. After rapid correction with intraperitoneal injection of hypertonic saline, the recovery of the loss of organic osmolytes was 48% in the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, and medulla oblongata, 44% in pons, but only 17% in midbrain and 36% in striatum. Histopathology of the brain was examined in nine rats 2-7 d after correction of hyponatremia. Large demyelinative lesions were seen persistently in the midbrain and striatum, and smaller lesions in cerebrum, cerebellum, and pons were found less frequently. This is the first report of regional distribution of brain organic osmolytes. After rapid correction of chronic hyponatremia, a topographic correlation between demyelination lesions and delayed accumulation of organic osmolytes exists.