Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy ((1)H-MRS) studies have previously reported reduced brain N-acetyl aspartate (NAA) and increased myo-inositol (mI) in people with established Alzheimer's disease (AD). The earliest structure affected by AD is the hippocampus but relatively few studies have examined its neuronal integrity by MRS in AD and fewer still in people with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (MCI). We measured the hippocampal concentration of NAA, mI, choline (Cho) and creatine + phosphocreatine (Cr + PCr) in 39 patients with AD, 21 subjects with MCI and 38 age matched healthy elderly controls. Patients with AD had a significantly lower hippocampal [NAA] than controls, with subjects with MCI intermediate between the other two groups. [NAA] was positively correlated with memory in the impaired groups. Using mean hippocampal [NAA] and [Cr + PCr] we correctly classified 72% of people with AD, and 75% of controls. Reductions in [NAA] can be detected in the hippocampi of subjects with MCI and hippocampal [NAA] and [Cr + PCr] can distinguish between mild AD and normal elderly controls.