Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Does Chronic Fatigue Syndrome have a Neurological Origin?

By Leighton Barnden

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome may result from damage to a small but critical brain structure.

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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is distinguished by a persistent malaise and lethargy that physical or mental exertion exacerbates for a period of several days. Sufferers can identify a clear-cut beginning to their condition. In many, it follows a viral infection such as glandular fever. Sufferers also experience cognitive difficulties and, sometimes, autonomic disturbances such as dizziness on standing, gastrointestinal upsets, cardiovascular irregularities and immune system dysfunction.

Despite this litany of symptoms, the exact diagnostic criteria for CFS are controversial and remain under review. This is all the more troubling because the root cause of CFS has not been identified.

In a new magnetic resonance imaging study of the brain involving 25 CFS and 25 control subjects (tinyurl.com/psyehl7), sophisticated image processing and statistical analysis investigated local changes in grey matter and white matter volumes, and in myelin levels and blood volume. Myelin, in the form of a sheath around the axon of each nerve cell, controls nerve impulse conduction to elsewhere in the brain or the body. Myelin is what makes white matter white, while grey matter contains the working nerve cells. At sites throughout the brain, the study looked for changes in these MRI measures that correlated with CFS severity or duration.

White matter volume in the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.