Body mass and cardiorespiratory fitness are associated with altered brain metabolism

Ryan J. Larsen, Lauren B. Raine, Charles H. Hillman, Arthur F. Kramer, Neal J. Cohen, Aron K. Barbey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy provides measures of brain chemistry that are sensitive to cardiorespiratory fitness and body composition. The concentration of N-acetyl aspartic acid (NAA) is of interest because it is a marker of neuronal integrity. The ratio of NAA to creatine, a standard reference metabolite, has been shown to correlate with measures of both cardiorespiratory fitness and body composition. However, previous studies have explored these effects in isolation, making it impossible to know which of these highly correlated measures drive the correlations with NAA/Cr. As a result, the mechanisms underlying their association remain to be established. We therefore conducted a comprehensive study to investigate the relative contributions of cardiorespiratory fitness and percent body fat in predicting NAA/Cr. We demonstrate that NAA/Cr in white matter is correlated with percent body fat, and that this relationship largely subsumes the correlation of NAA/Cr with cardiorespiratory fitness. These results underscore the association of body composition with axonal integrity and suggests that this relationship drives the association of NAA/Cr with physical fitness in young adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)999-1007
Number of pages9
JournalMetabolic Brain Disease
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020


  • Magnetic resonance spectroscopy
  • N-acetyl aspartic acid (NAA)
  • Body mass index
  • Cardiorespiratory fitness
  • Body composition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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