Objective. The purpose of this study was to use proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) as a metabolic assay to describe biochemical changes during the evolution of neuronal injury in infants after shaken baby syndrome (SBS), that explain the disparity between apparent physical injury and the neurological deficit after SBS.

Methodology. Three infants [6 months (A), 5 weeks (B), 7 months (C)] with SBS were examined repeatedly using localized quantitative proton MRS. Examinations were performed on days 7 and 13 (A), on days 1, 3, 5, and 12 (B), and on days 7 and 19 (C) posttrauma. Long-term follow-up examinations were performed 5 months posttrauma (A) and 4.6 months posttrauma (B). Data were compared to control data from 52 neurologically normal infants presented in a previous study.

Results. Spectra from parietal white matter obtained at approximately the same time after injury (5 to 7 days) showed markedly different patterns of abnormality. Infant A shows near normal levels of the neuronal marker N-acetyl aspartate, creatine, and phosphocreatine, although infant C shows absent N-acetyl aspartate, almost absent creatine and phosphocreatine, and a great excess of lactate/lipid and lipid. Analysis of the time course in infant B appears to connect these variations as markers of the severity of head injury suffered in the abuse, indicating a progression of biochemical abnormality. The principal cerebral metabolites detected by MRS that remain normal up to 24 hours fall precipitately to ∼40% of normal within 5 to 12 days, with lactate/lipid and lipid levels more than doubling concentration between days 5 and 12.

Conclusions. A strong impression is gained of MRS as a prognostic marker because infant A recovered although infants B and C remained in a state consistent with compromised neurological capacity. Loss of integrity of the proton MR spectrum appears to signal irreversible neurological damage and occurs at a time when clinical and neurological status gives no indication of long-term outcome. These results suggest the value of sequential MRS in the management of SBS.

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