Objective: The significance and etiology of focal brain lesions in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) are unknown. Our purpose was to determine whether the neurochemistry of focal lesions and normal appearing brain tissues in SLE were consistent with neuronal loss, demyelination, or ischemia.
Methods: Patients with SLE (n = 14) and controls (n = 13) were studied using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and spectroscopic imaging (SI) at 1.5 Tesla.
Results: MRI detected fixed focal brain lesions (n = 16) and SI measured brain metabolites, including N-acetylaspartate (NAA), creatine (Cre), choline (Cho), and lactate (Lac). NAA/Cre of normal appearing brain was decreased in patients with SLE compared to controls: grey matter (1.74 +/- 0.16 vs 1.92 +/- 0.18; p = 0.01), occipital white matter (1.98 +/- 0.22 vs 2.23 +/- 0.16; p = 0.004), and periventricular white matter (2.00 +/- 0.23 vs 2.33 +/- 0.23; p = 0.001). Lesions were characterized by markedly decreased NAA/Cre relative to normal appearing tissues in the same patient (1.67 +/- 0.22 vs 1.88 +/- 0.14; p = 0.0002). Elevated Cho/Cre was observed in 25% of focal lesions and 21% of normal appearing tissues. No elevation of lactate was observed in lesions or normal appearing tissues.
Conclusion: SI detects focal and generalized brain abnormalities in SLE characterized by decreased NAA, elevated choline, and normal lactate. These findings are consistent with widespread neuronal injury and demyelination, but are not consistent with anaerobic metabolism.