Early N-acetylaspartate depletion is a marker of neuronal dysfunction in rats and primates chronically treated with the mitochondrial toxin 3-nitropropionic acid.J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2000 May; 20(5):789-99.JC
N-acetylaspartate (NAA) quantification by 1H-magnetic resonance spectroscopy has been commonly used to assess in vivo neuronal loss in neurodegenerative disorders. Here. the authors used ex vivo and in vivo 1H-magnetic resonance spectroscopy in rat and primate models of progressive striatal degeneration induced by the mitochondrial toxin 3-nitropropionate (3NP) to determine whether early NAA depletions could also be associated with neuronal dysfunction. In rats that were treated for 3 days with 3NP and had motor symptoms, the authors found a significant decrease in NAA concentrations, specifically restricted to the striatum. No cell loss or dying cells were found at this stage in these animals. After 5 days of 3NP treatment, a further decrease in striatal NAA concentrations was observed in association with the occurrence of dying neurons in the dorsolateral striatum. In 3NP-treated primates, a similar striatal-selective and early decrease in NAA concentrations was observed after only a few weeks of neurotoxic treatment, without any sign of ongoing cell death. This early decrease in striatal NAA was partially reversed after 4 weeks of 3NP withdrawal. These results demonstrate that early NAA depletions reflect a reversible state of neuronal dysfunction preceding cell degeneration and suggest that in vivo quantification of NAA 1H-magnetic resonance spectroscopy may become a valuable tool for assessing early neuronal dysfunction and the effects of potential neuroprotective therapies in neurodegenerative disorders.