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Effects of fat on MR‐measured metabolite signal strengths: implications for in vivo MRS studies of the human brain

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Recent MRS studies have indicated that a higher body mass index (BMI) is associated with lower brain metabolite levels. Generally, individuals with higher BMIs have more body fat deposits than individuals with normal BMIs. This single-voxel spectroscopy (SVS) study investigated possible effects of fat on MR-measured metabolite signal areas, which may at least partly explain the observed associations of BMI with MR-measured brain metabolite levels in vivo. SVS data were acquired at 4 T from a phantom containing N-acetylaspartate, glutamate and creatine, as well as from three healthy male adults. Back fat obtained from pig was used to assess the effects of fat on metabolite signals. With the same voxel size and placement, the phantom was first scanned without fat (baseline), and then with 0.7-cm- and 1.4-cm-thick fat layers placed on it. Each participant was also scanned first without fat and then with two 0.7-cm fat layers, one placed beneath the occiput and the other on the forehead. Two spectra were acquired per participant from the anterior cingulate and the parieto-occipital cortices. The metabolite resonance and corresponding water peak areas were then fitted and metabolite to water signal ratios were used for analyses. In both phantom and in vivo experiments, the metabolite-to-water ratios decreased in the presence of fat relative to baseline metabolite-to-water ratios. The reduced metabolite signals in the presence of fat reported here are reminiscent of the negative correlations observed between BMI and MR-measured metabolite levels. These apparent physical effects of fat have potentially far-reaching consequences for the accuracy of MR measurements of brain metabolite levels and their interpretation, particularly when large fat stores exist around the skull, such as in individuals with higher BMI.

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