Researchers have created a new open-access tool that allows doctors and scientists to assess the brain health of infants by assessing the concentration of various chemical markers, called metabolites, in the brain. The tool compiled data from 140 infants to determine normal ranges for these metabolites.
Published in the newspaper NMR in biomedicine, the study describes a simpler and more reliable way to assess the concentrations of metabolites in the infant’s brain than was previously available, said Ryan Larsen, a researcher at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Metabolites play an important role in the normal growth, development and function of the brain, said study co-author Dr. Ellen Grant, director of the Fetal Neo-Natal Neuro-Natal Neuroimaging and Developmental Science Center at the Boston Children’s Hospital and Professor of Radiology and Pediatrics Harvard School of Medicine. High or low levels of metabolites in the brain can be the first sign of problems with the functioning or development of the brain.
“For example, we’re looking at choline, which plays a role in building myelin, the sheath that allows electrical impulses to travel along neurons,” Grant said. “Another metabolite, called NAA, is important for the healthy growth and proliferation of dendrites, the branches on neurons that receive signals from other neurons.”
By measuring the concentration of key metabolites like these, researchers can quickly detect certain problems – allowing interventions in time to avoid damage to the growing brain, she said.
Evaluating metabolites in the brain normally involves proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, a technology that uses MRI not for visual imaging, but to detect and identify specific molecules in the tissues of interest. The most common approach requires extensive imaging and detailed calculations of the amount of water inside and outside of brain tissue to standardize these measurements, an expensive and time-consuming approach.
To resolve this difficulty, Grant and study co-author Borjan Gagoski, radiology instructor at Boston Children’s Hospital, used the MRS proton to scan the brains of 140 infants around one month old and over. three months. In addition to using water as a benchmark, the team also compiled data from several key metabolites in their calculations. This allowed them to create a tool that uses standard values for several metabolites when assessing the concentration of a metabolite in the brain of an infant.
“What most people do is look at a simple relationship between Metabolite 1 and Metabolite 2,” Larsen said. “But if this ratio is low, does that mean Metabolite 1 is low or Metabolite 2 is high? It becomes a problem of interpretation.”
Instead, the team painstakingly assessed the relationships between seven key metabolites to create a database of normal values for each of them at different times and to show how the metabolite concentrations change relative to each other. as the infant’s brain develops.
The tool developed by the team offers a checklist of reference brain metabolites that users can select in different combinations to better understand an infant’s profile.
“Spectroscopy is really hard to do, but when done the right way, it can help us learn more about the brain,” Gagoski said. “This approach has great potential because we can detect abnormalities and disease before we can see anything on structural scans. And it’s really important to monitor brain health at this point in life.”
This work is funded by Abbott through the Center for Nutrition, Learning, and Memory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The document “Quantification of Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Data Using a Combined Reference: Application in Typical Developmental Infants” is available from the U. From I. News Bureau.