N-acetyl aspartate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The most prominent signal in the 1H magnetic resonance spectrum of the human brain and spinal cord arises from N-acetyl aspartate (NAA). NAA is formed by acetylation of aspartate within the neuronal mitochondria, a reaction that helps draw glutamate back into the tricarboxylic acid cycle. Transport of NAA out of neurons is slow, leading to the build-up of a substantial concentration (~20 mM) in the neuronal cytoplasm. NAA is broken down by deacetylation in oligodendrocytes, delivering acetyl groups for myelin formation. NAA levels are decreased in many neurological disorders, including multiple sclerosis, stroke, and Huntington disease. This decrease is loosely interpreted as indicating neuronal dysfunction. In several disorders, NAA reductions are at least partially reversible, indicating that they might arise from a reduced neuronal energy metabolism, and/or disruption of neuronal membranes, and not simply from neuronal loss.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1131-1138
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2016


  • Brain
  • Magnetic resonance spectroscopy
  • Metabolite
  • N-acetyl aspartate
  • Neuronal marker

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Spectroscopy
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biochemistry
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging

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