Biochemical markers of intelligence: a proton MR spectroscopy study of normal human brain

Rex E Jung, William M Brooks, Ronald A Yeo, Stephen J Chiulli, David C Weers, Wilmer L Sibbitt


Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H–MRS) offers a unique non–invasive approach to measurement of N-acetylaspartate (NAA) and choline (Cho), putative markers of neuronal and glial integrity. Previous studies revealed that these neurochemicals predict cognitive impairment in diseased subjects, although little is known about their relationship to cognitive functioning in healthy people. We measured the concentrations of NAA and Cho in the left occipitoparietal white matter of 26 healthy adults and compared them with intellectual performance assessed by the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-3. We found that NAA (b = 0.6, p up to 0.01) and Cho (b = -0.42, p up to 0.01) were independently associated with the Full-Scale Intelligence Quotient. Together, these metabolites accounted for a large proportion of the variance in intelligence (r2 = 0.45). Possible mechanisms underlying these correlations, such as mitochondrial function and myelin turnover, are discussed. 1H-MRS is a sensitive new tool to assess the neuronal underpinnings of cognitive function non-invasively.

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