Regional glia-related metabolite levels are higher at older age and scale negatively with visuo-spatial working memory: A cross-sectional proton MR spectroscopy study at 7 tesla on normal cognitive ageing
Proton MR spectroscopy (1H-MRS) has been used to assess regional neurochemical brain changes during normal ageing, but results have varied. Exploiting the increased sensitivity at ultra-high field strength, we performed 1H-MRS in 60 healthy volunteers to asses age-related differences in neuron- and glia-related metabolite levels and their relation to cognitive ageing. Gender was balanced and participants were assigned to a younger, middle and older group according to their age, ranging from 18 to 79 years. They underwent 1H-MRS of anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), hippocampus and thalamus and performed a visuo-spatial working memory task outside the scanner. Multivariate ANCOVA revealed a significant overall effect of age group on metabolite levels in all brain regions of interest. Considering specific metabolites, elevated levels of glia-related metabolites in older age groups were observed in all brain regions. For the neuron-related metabolites, differences among age groups were only observed in two regions. We found higher levels of total N-acetyl aspartate in hippocampus for the older than the middle group, and lower levels of glutamate in DLPFC in the older than the younger group. Working memory performance correlated negatively with levels of glia-related metabolites for total creatine and total choline in ACC and myo-inositol in hippocampus and thalamus, but not with neuron-related metabolites. Together, the results show that age effects on glia-related metabolites scale with cognitive ageing in multiple brain regions. We conclude that 1H-MRS-derived glia-related markers may be of value in longitudinal studies of brain ageing.
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