The branched chain amino acid transaminase (BCAT) has an important role in nitrogen shuttling and glutamate metabolism in the brain. The purpose of this study was to describe the cerebral distribution and metabolism of hyperpolarized 2-keto[1-(13)C]isocaproate (KIC) in the normal rat using magnetic resonance modalities. Hyperpolarized KIC is metabolized to [1-(13)C]leucine (leucine) by BCAT. The results show that KIC and its metabolic product, leucine, are present at imageable quantities 20 seconds after end of KIC administration throughout the brain. Further, significantly higher metabolism was observed in hippocampal regions compared with the muscle tissue. In conclusion, the cerebral metabolism of hyperpolarized KIC is imaged and hyperpolarized KIC may be a promising substrate for evaluation of cerebral BCAT activity in conjunction with neurodegenerative disease.Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism advance online publication, 28 March 2012; doi:10.1038/jcbfm.2012.34.