Brain difference found in people with chronic fatigue

Finding needs to be confirmed in study with larger number of patients

A tendril of tissue in the right side of the brain appears to be abnormal in people who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, a small brain scanning study suggests.  The finding is preliminary and based on a handful of people, but if confirmed in larger studies, the results could begin to explain the confusing biology behind chronic fatigue syndrome. The disorder, which can cause extreme exhaustion, muscle pain and headaches, has no known cause and no effective treatments.

Researchers led by Michael Zeineh of Stanford University School of Medicine compared brain scans from 15 people with chronic fatigue syndrome with scans of 14 healthy people. In the brains of chronic fatigue syndrome patients, a sliver of white matter — the bundles of tracts that carry signals around the brain — appeared to be different, scoring higher than usual on a measurement called fractional anisotropy. This elevated score could result from the fibers themselves being stronger, or from other fibers that cut across the area being weaker than usual, Zeineh says.  

It’s unclear how this section of this particular tract, called the right arcuate fasciculus, is involved in the disorder. Studies that include more people are needed to determine whether the brain finding could be a marker of the disease, the scientists write October 29 in Radiology

Laura Sanders is the neuroscience writer. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Southern California.

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