NYU School of Medicine attracts a powerful MRI machine

such as carbon and phosphorus, which make up key compounds in the body. These biochemicals are also important to study, but at lower field strengths their signals are too faint and often overlap. Physicists have also figured how to mask the signal from water, allowing the signals of other compounds to emerge over a wider spectrum at higher field strengths. "The massive proton signal from water, which makes up approximately 70% of our bodies, swamps all the other signals that you want to look at," explains Dr. Helpern. "It's like trying to listen to a weak radio station. With the more powerful magnets, we can find all these other signals buried beneath the water signal that are really interesting to look at, and these signals also are more distinct because they no longer overlap."

Molecular Imaging
The ability to tune into these other signals is expanding the applications of MRI, and causing a lot of excitement in the field. The applications are part of the emerging field of "molecular imaging," and will enable researchers to distinguish minute amounts of metabolites in the brain, such as glutathione, taurine, and aspartate, as well as neurotransmitters used for neuronal communication, such as glutamate and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA).

Researchers are interested in characterizing diseases as diverse as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, depression, alcoholism, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and schizophrenia by their biochemical brain signatures. These signatures could provide early clues to chemical changes in the brain that are occurring due to disease, and potentially offer new treatment options that could modify these alterations. For example, Dr. Grossman's laboratory has identified the signature of a chemical called N-acetyl aspartate in the brains of people with multiple sclerosis. Early studies suggest that patients with an imbalance in this chemical may benefit most from aggressive therapy.

In addition, the field of molec

Contact: Pamela McDonnell
New York University Medical Center and School of Medicine

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