Metabolite measurements in the caudate nucleus, anterior cingulate cortex and hippocampus among patients with mitochondrial disorders: a case-control study using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy
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BACKGROUND: Mitochondrial disorders are clinical syndromes associated with mutations in the mitochondrial or nuclear genome that result in impaired oxidative phosphorylation and deficient energy production. Metabolic abnormalities in brain areas associated with cognitive functions could give rise to neuropsychiatric symptomatology. The aim of this study was to use single-voxel proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy to identify metabolic abnormalities in regions implicated in neuropsychiatric symptoms in patients with mitochondrial disorders. METHODS: N-acetyl-aspartate and creatine levels were measured in the caudate nucleus, anterior cingulate cortex and hippocampus in 15 patients with mitochondrial disorders compared with 15 healthy controls matched for age and sex. RESULTS: N-acetyl-aspartate levels were significantly lower in the caudate nucleus among patients with mitochondrial disorders (mean 7.04 ± 1.19 standard deviation [SD] institutional units) compared with healthy controls (mean 8.19 ± 1.18 SD institutional units; p = 0.02). Creatine levels were lower in the caudate nucleus among patients compared with controls (patients: mean 6.84 ± 1.42 SD institutional units; controls: mean 7.52 ± 0.76 SD institutional units; p = 0.03), but the results were no longer significant after correction for multiple comparisons. There were no significant differences in metabolite measurements between patients and controls in the anterior cingulate cortex and the hippocampus. INTERPRETATION: Metabolic abnormalities were identified exclusively in the caudate nucleus, with significantly lower N-acetyl-aspartate levels among patients compared with controls. These results suggest that the corpus striatum may be highly susceptible to mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation defects and resultant cell loss. Given the role of the caudate nucleus in cognitive and executive functions, our findings raise the possibility that metabolic abnormalities in the caudate nucleus may contribute to cognitive impairment and neuropsychiatric symptoms in patients with mitochondrial disorders, which could be investigated in future studies.