As yet, there are no in vivo data on tissue water changes and associated morphometric changes involved in the osmo-adaptation of normal brains. Our aim was to evaluate osmoadaptive responses of the healthy human brain to osmotic challenges of de- and rehydration by serial measurements of brain volume, tissue fluid, and metabolites.
Serial T1-weighted and (1)H-MR spectroscopy data were acquired in 15 healthy individuals at normohydration, on 12 hours of dehydration, and during 1 hour of oral rehydration. Osmotic challenges were monitored by serum measures, including osmolality and hematocrit. MR imaging data were analyzed by using FreeSurfer and LCModel.
On dehydration, serum osmolality increased by 0.67% and brain tissue fluid decreased by 1.63%, on average. MR imaging morphometry demonstrated corresponding decreases of cortical thickness and volumes of the whole brain, cortex, white matter, and hypothalamus/thalamus. These changes reversed during rehydration. Continuous fluid ingestion of 1 L of water for 1 hour within the scanner lowered serum osmolality by 0.96% and increased brain tissue fluid by 0.43%, on average. Concomitantly, cortical thickness and volumes of the whole brain, cortex, white matter, and hypothalamus/thalamus increased. Changes in brain tissue fluid were related to volume changes of the whole brain, the white matter, and hypothalamus/thalamus. Only volume changes of the hypothalamus/thalamus significantly correlated with serum osmolality.
This is the first study simultaneously evaluating changes in brain tissue fluid, metabolites, volume, and cortical thickness. Our results reflect cellular volume regulatory mechanisms at a macroscopic level and emphasize that it is essential to control for hydration levels in studies on brain morphometry and metabolism in order to avoid confounding the findings.