Assessment of mitochondrial impairment in traumatic brain injury using high-resolution proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy

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  • 1 Departments of Neurosurgery and
  • | 2 Radiology, Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, Richmond, Virginia
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Object

The goal of this study was to demonstrate the posttraumatic neurochemical damage in normal-appearing brain and to assess mitochondrial dysfunction by measuring N-acetylaspartate (NAA) levels in patients with severe head injuries, using proton (H) magnetic resonance (MR) spectroscopy.

Methods

Semiquantitative analysis of NAA relative to creatine-containing compounds (Cr) and choline (Cho) was carried out from proton spectra obtained by means of chemical shift (CS) imaging and single-voxel (SV) methods in 25 patients with severe traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) (Glasgow Coma Scale scores ≤ 8) using a 1.5-tesla MR unit. Proton MR spectroscopy was also performed in 5 healthy volunteers (controls).

Results

The SV studies in patients with diffuse TBI showed partial reduction of NAA/Cho and NAA/Cr ratios within the first 10 days after injury (means ± standard deviations 1.59 ± 0.46 and 1.44 ± 0.21, respectively, in the patients compared with 2.08 ± 0.26 and 2.04 ± 0.31, respectively, in the controls; nonsignificant difference). The ratios gradually declined in all patients as time from injury increased (mean minimum values NAA/Cho 1.05 ± 0.44 and NAA/Cr 1.05 ± 0.30, p < 0.03 and p < 0.02, respectively). This reduction was greater in patients with less favorable outcomes. In patients with focal injuries, the periphery of the lesions revealed identical trends of NAA/Cho and NAA/Cr decrease. These reductions correlated with outcome at 6 months (p < 0.01). Assessment with multivoxel methods (CS imaging) demonstrated that, in diffuse injury, NAA levels declined uniformly throughout the brain. At 40 days postinjury, initially low NAA/Cho levels had recovered to near baseline in patients who had good outcomes, whereas no recovery was evident in patients with poor outcomes (p < 0.01).

Conclusions

Using 1H-MR spectroscopy, it is possible to detect the posttraumatic neurochemical damage of the injured brain when conventional neuroimaging techniques reveal no abnormality. Reduction of NAA levels is a dynamic process, evolving over time, decreasing and remaining low throughout the involved tissue in patients with poor outcomes. Recovery of NAA levels in patients with favorable outcomes suggests marginal mitochondrial impairment and possible resynthesis from vital neurons.

Abbreviations used in this paper:

ATP = adenosine triphosphate; Cho = choline; Cr = creatine-containing compounds; CS = chemical shift; CT = computed tomography; GOS = Glasgow Outcome Scale; MR = magnetic resonance; NAA = N-acetylaspartate; NICU = neuroscience intensive care unit; SD = standard deviation; SV = single-voxel; TBI = traumatic brain injury.

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