Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy in Epilepsy: Clinical Issues


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. F. Cendes at Dept. Neurologia, FCM, UNICAMP, Cidade Universitária, Campinas, SP, Brazil 13083-970. E-mail:


Summary: Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) studies have shown focal reductions of N-acetyl aspartate (NAA) signal in patients with different forms of temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), including those with normal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), as well as extratemporal partial epilepsies. Both single-voxel and multivoxel 1H-MRS have high sensitivity for detecting low NAA, indicative of neuronal dysfunction in focal epilepsies. Decreases in NAA correlate strongly with EEG abnormalities and severity of cell loss, and may be a more sensitive measure than structural MRI. However, the NAA decrease is often more widespread than the epileptogenic focus. The results of published MRS studies suggest that in patients with partial epilepsy, there is a metabolic abnormality throughout the brain, with patterns of asymmetry and focal accentuation that are useful for noninvasive localization of epileptogenic foci. A major limitation of current proton MRS studies in epilepsy is the inability to cover the entire brain in a single acquisition, thus leading to major sampling bias. The area of maximal abnormality may reside farther away, even when there is an abnormality inside of the volume of interest used for that particular examination. Decreased NAA ratios are present even in children at the onset of their epilepsy, and evidence points to a gradual and progressive course of further reduction in NAA values. Conversely, the relative NAA concentration can recover ipsilaterally and contralaterally after successful resection of a temporal lobe focus. These observations, together with the fact of the often widespread NAA abnormality, must be taken into account for the correct and adequate interpretation of proton MRS studies in the assessment of partial epilepsies.