Functional dynamics of hippocampal glutamate during associative learning assessed with in vivo 1H functional magnetic resonance spectroscopy

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Abstract

fMRI has provided vibrant characterization of regional and network responses associated with associative learning and memory; however, their relationship to functional neurochemistry is unclear. Here, we introduce a novel application of in vivo proton functional magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H fMRS) to investigate the dynamics of hippocampal glutamate during paired-associated learning and memory in healthy young adults. We show that the temporal dynamics of glutamate differed significantly during processes of memory consolidation and retrieval. Moreover, learning proficiency was predictive of the temporal dynamics of glutamate such that fast learners were characterized by a significant increase in glutamate levels early in learning, whereas this increase was only observed later in slow learners. The observed functional dynamics of glutamate provides a novel in vivo marker of brain function. Previously demonstrated N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor mediated synaptic plasticity during associative memory formation may be expressed in glutamate dynamics, which the novel application of 1H MRS is sensitive to. The novel application of 1H fMRS can provide highly innovative vistas for characterizing brain function in vivo, with significant implications for studying glutamatergic neurotransmission in health and disorders such as schizophrenia.

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