Huntington's disease (HD) is the result of an expanded (CAG) repeat in a gene on chromosome 4. A consequence of the gene defect may be progressive impairment of energy metabolism. We previously showed increased occipital cortex lactate in HD using localized 1H spectroscopy. We have now extended these studies to show an almost threefold elevation in occipital cortex lactate in 31 HD patients as compared with 17 normal control subjects (p < 10-11). The spectra in three presymptomatic gene-positive patients were identical to normal control subjects in cortical regions, but three in eight showed elevated lactate in the striatum. Similar to recently reported increases in task-related activation of the striatum in the dominant hemisphere, we found that striatal lactate levels in HD patients were markedly asymmetric (higher on the left side). Markers of neuronal degeneration, decreased N-acetylaspartate (NAA)/creatine and increased choline/creatine levels, were symmetric. Both decreased NAA and increased lactate in the striatum significantly correlated with duration of symptoms. When divided by his or her age, an individual's striatal NAA loss and lactate increase were found to directly correlate with the subject's CAG repeat number, with correlation coefficients of 0.8 and 0.7, respectively. Similar correlations were noted between postmortem cell loss and age versus CAG repeat length. Together, these data provide further evidence for an interaction between neuronal activation and a defect in energy metabolism in HD that may extend to presymptomatic subjects.