by Sasha Nimmo

Scientists at Queensland’s National Centre for Neuroimmunology and Emerging Diseases, Griffith University found obvious differences between the brains of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and healthy controls, when examined using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) during an attention test.

The study examined 43 people with chronic fatigue syndrome (Fukuda criteria) and 26 healthy controls. The people in the study also completed a health survey about the severity of their illness and the MRI findings correlated with the self-reported severity.

The participants were all asked to to the Stroop test, which tests for brain damage by asking people to read the names of colours but the words are printed in a different coloured ink. Performance was measured by accuracy and response time.  The CFS patients took longer to answer but were not significantly different in accuracy. Researchers found that CFS patients recruit more regions to accomplish the Stroop task than controls.

This is the first study to investigate BOLD (blood oxygen level dependant) signal SampEn in response to tasks in CFS. The results suggest the brain responds differently to a cognitive challenge in patients with CFS, with recruitment of wider regions to compensate for lower information capacity.

Published in NeuroImage: Clinical, the study’s lead author is Dr Zack Chan who specialises in neuroimaging in chronic fatigue syndrome. He is working on developing objective diagnostic criteria using diagnostic imaging and machine learning. Dr Leighton Barnden, also at the NCNED, has done a lot of work on brain changes and is one of the authors of this study.

This study was funded by the Stafford Fox Medical Research Foundation, the Mason Foundation, Douglas Stutt and Blake-Beckett Foundation.