N-acetylaspartate in neuropsychiatric disorders

Prog Neurobiol. 1995 Aug;46(5):531-40. doi: 10.1016/0301-0082(95)00014-m.


N-Acetyl aspartate (NAA) is the second most abundant amino acid in the human brain. NAA is synthesized by L-aspartate N-acetyl transferase or by cleavage from N-acetyl aspartyl glutamate by N-acylated alpha-linked L-amino dipeptidase (NAALADase); and it is catabolized to acetate and aspartate by N-acetyl aspartate amino hydrolase (amino acylase II). NAA is localized primarily to neurons, where it is concentrated in the cytosol. Although NAA is devoid of neurophysiological effects, it serves as an acetyl donor, an initiator of protein synthesis or a carbon transfer source across the mitochondrial membrane. The concentration of NAA in human brain increases 3-fold between midgestation and adulthood. In Canavan's Disease, an autosomal recessive disorder due to a null mutation in amino acylase II, NAA levels in brain are markedly increased and disrupt myelination. NAA levels have been found to be reduced in neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's Disease and Huntington's Disease. Since endogenous NAA can be readily detected in human brain by magnetic resonance spectroscopy, it is increasingly being exploited as a marker for functional and structural integrity of neurons in an expanding number of disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Aspartic Acid / metabolism*
  • Aspartic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Aspartic Acid / physiology*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Neuropsychology*


  • Aspartic Acid