Severity of prematurity and age impact early postnatal development of GABA and glutamate systems

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Cerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991)




GABA; MEGA-PRESS; MR spectroscopy; glutamate; premature brain


Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamatergic system perturbations following premature birth may explain neurodevelopmental deficits in the absence of structural brain injury. Using GABA-edited spectroscopy (MEscher-GArwood Point Resolved Spectroscopy [MEGA-PRESS] on 3 T MRI), we have described in-vivo brain GABA+ (+macromolecules) and Glx (glutamate + glutamine) concentrations in term-born infants. We report previously unavailable comparative data on in-vivo GABA+ and Glx concentrations in the cerebellum, the right basal ganglia, and the right frontal lobe of preterm-born infants without structural brain injury. Seventy-five preterm-born (gestational age 27.8 ± 2.9 weeks) and 48 term-born (39.6 ± 0.9 weeks) infants yielded reliable MEGA-PRESS spectra acquired at post-menstrual age (PMA) of 40.2 ± 2.3 and 43.0 ± 2 weeks, respectively. GABA+ (median 2.44 institutional units [i.u.]) concentrations were highest in the cerebellum and Glx higher in the cerebellum (5.73 i.u.) and basal ganglia (5.16 i.u.), with lowest concentrations in the frontal lobe. Metabolite concentrations correlated positively with advancing PMA and postnatal age at MRI (Spearman's rho 0.2-0.6). Basal ganglia Glx and NAA, and frontal GABA+ and NAA concentrations were lower in preterm compared with term infants. Moderate preterm infants had lower metabolite concentrations than term and extreme preterm infants. Our findings emphasize the impact of premature extra-uterine stimuli on GABA-glutamate system development and may serve as early biomarkers of neurodevelopmental deficits.