Chronic fatigue marker
The brains of people with chronic fatigue syndrome have distinct differences from those of healthy people. This new finding, published in Radiology, could lead to more definitive diagnoses of the syndrome and may point to an underlying mechanism in the disease process.
CFS affects between 1 million and 4 million Americans. Coming up with a more precise number of cases is tough, because it’s difficult to actually diagnose the disease. While all CFS patients share a common symptom — crushing, unremitting fatigue that persists for six months or longer — other symptoms can vary widely, often overlapping with those of other conditions.
“If you don’t understand the disease, you’re throwing darts blindfolded,” says Michael Zeineh, MD, PhD, assistant professor of radiology, who led the study.
Comparing brain images of healthy people with those of CFS patients, the Stanford investigators made three noteworthy observations. First, overall white-matter content of CFS patients’ brains, compared with healthy subjects’ brains, was reduced. (“White matter” denotes long, cable-like nerve tracts carrying signals among broadly dispersed concentrations of information-processing “gray matter.”)
Second, the scientists found a consistent abnormality in a particular part of a white-matter tract in CFS patients’ brains. The degree of abnormality closely tracked the severity of the patient’s condition. Bolstering this observation was a third one: a thickening of gray matter at the two areas of the brain connected by that tract.