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Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy and Autism Research | The Essential Guide To Autism

Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy and Autism Research

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Autism was discovered almost a century ago, but, to this day, medical researchers still are not clear on what the cause or causes are.  Nevertheless, despite the fact that the cause is unknown, it is widely accepted that autism spectrum disorders are the result of brain abnormalities in relation to brain structure or function.  However, due to the fact that underlying causes of these abnormalities remains a mystery, various studies have been conducted to learn more - studies such as Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy and autism.

Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) is a scanning technique that is very similar to an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).  The main difference is the MRS method is non image based; however, both techniques can be utilized at the same time.  The purpose of a magnetic resonance spectroscopy is to examine the brain’s hydrogen and phosphorus atoms, and gather information regarding the brain’s regions where chemical activity is present.

Depending on the data that is collected during a magnetic resonance spectroscopy session, MRS can identify metabolic and other abnormalities occurring within the biochemical process of the brain, and assess if the upper motor neurons in the brain are effectively functioning.

How does it work?  Magnetic resonance spectroscopy involves the use of a magnet, which causes the various chemicals within the brain to vibrate at diverse frequencies.  MRS creates a signature to reveal the chemicals, and chemical amounts that are current in the brain.

Is it safe? Yes. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy and autism is quite safe.  The MRS technique allows scientists and doctors the ability to efficiently measure the body’s and brain’s chemicals without ever having to remove tissue or blood samples.  Furthermore, MRS does not use potentially hazardous radioactive labels, which means patients are not at risk of suffering from negative side effects, regardless of the number of times they are subjected to the MRS technique.
What is the main magnetic resonance spectroscopy and autism connection?  It is thought that autistics have low levels of NAA (N-acetylaspartate acid) within their brains.   NAA is believed to be an indicator of the brain’s neuron integrity in specific regions of the brain that are though to be affected by autism.  MRS can be used to determine estimates of particular metabolites in the brain.  Thus, in the case of autism, MRS would be focused on studying NAA levels.

If MRS determines that there are indeed reduced levels of NAA in the cortical and subcortical areas in the brain of autistics, this would indicate that neuron loss or injury exists within these areas.  This discovery will help researchers learn if a systematic relationship occurs in autistic brains among NAA levels, behavioral performance, and functional activity.

What are the benefits? It is hard to determine what benefits the studies using magnetic resonance spectroscopy and autism will bring.  Nevertheless, it is clear that MRS provides researchers with more understanding about the condition.

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