Glutamate Levels Possible MS Predictor

A study conducted by University of California-San Francisco researchers has found a possible correlation between high levels of glutamate in the brain and the progression of multiple sclerosis in patients. The said study is the first to measure levels of glutamate toxicity over time. It also suggested of a more improved method of trying to track the said disease and predicting its possible course. The findings in the study were presented to the American Academy of Neurology during its annual scientific meeting in Seattle last April 29, 2009.

The team conducted measurements of glutamate levels in the brain of the clinical trial patients with MS. They made use of a new technique developed by Radhika Srinivasan, PhD, assistant researcher in the UCSF Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging who also was the study author. The new technique was based on proton MR spectroscopy, a form of imaging which makes use of simple radio frequency pulses that target specific brain chemicals. This allows the monitoring of glutamate levels in the brain in real time.

Glutamate is known as a neurotransmitter in the brain that normally performs fundamental processes such as memory and sensory perception. But at elevated levels, it can trigger a series of negative reactions in the brain that prove to be toxic and can lead to symptoms associated with a variety of neurological disorders by damaging nerve cells that can cause seizures, injury and other problems. High levels of glutamate are known to be a cause of cell injury and death.

In a prior study also using proton MR spectroscopic imaging, researchers found out that MS patients have brains with significantly elevated levels of glutamate. In this study, the researchers were looking into glutamate levels as well as NAA (n-acteylaspartate) levels, a marker of axonal integrity in mature brains which also may have an effect on MS progression. The researchers are trying to compare and measure each one to see if a relationship between them existed.

The team looked into 265 MS patients and followed them up for an average of 1.8 years. The researchers found out that there was a significant annual loss of NAA which is also a measure of the progress of neurodegeneration. The researchers also found out that this was associated with the concentration of glutamate in the brain. It indicated that the higher the levels of glutamate, the greater the expected neuro-axonal loss.

The identification of the glutamate levels and its effects on diseases such as multiple sclerosis may help experts a means to monitor the treatment using drugs that target glutamate toxicity. According to Daniel Pelletier, MD, study author, associate professor of neurology and a member of the Multiple Sclerosis Research Group at the University of California- San Francisco, "This is the first time that we have had the ability to measure glutamate toxicity in the brain in real time, which gives us a marker for monitoring disease progression as well as our treatment of the disease. For instance, we already have anti-glutamate drugs, so now we can assess, with imaging, the impact of the therapy and the progression of the disease".

Source: University of California – San Francisco. "Glutamate Identified As Predictor Of Disease Progression In Multiple Sclerosis." ScienceDaily 7 May 2009. 12 May 2009 .

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