Big GABA: Edited MR spectroscopy at 24 research sites
Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) is the only biomedical imaging method that can noninvasively detect endogenous signals from the neurotransmitter γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the human brain. Its increasing popularity has been aided by improvements in scanner hardware and acquisition methodology, as well as by broader access to pulse sequences that can selectively detect GABA, in particular J-difference spectral editing sequences. Nevertheless, implementations of GABA-edited MRS remain diverse across research sites, making comparisons between studies challenging. This large-scale multi-vendor, multi-site study seeks to better understand the factors that impact measurement outcomes of GABA-edited MRS. An international consortium of 24 research sites was formed. Data from 272 healthy adults were acquired on scanners from the three major MRI vendors and analyzed using the Gannet processing pipeline. MRS data were acquired in the medial parietal lobe with standard GABA+ and macromolecule- (MM-) suppressed GABA editing. The coefficient of variation across the entire cohort was 12% for GABA+ measurements and 28% for MM-suppressed GABA measurements. A multilevel analysis revealed that most of the variance (72%) in the GABA+ data was accounted for by differences between participants within-site, while site-level differences accounted for comparatively more variance (20%) than vendor-level differences (8%). For MM-suppressed GABA data, the variance was distributed equally between site- (50%) and participant-level (50%) differences. The findings show that GABA+ measurements exhibit strong agreement when implemented with a standard protocol. There is, however, increased variability for MM-suppressed GABA measurements that is attributed in part to differences in site-to-site data acquisition. This study's protocol establishes a framework for future methodological standardization of GABA-edited MRS, while the results provide valuable benchmarks for the MRS community.