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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? Study Says It’s In Your Head

May 27, 2014
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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People with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) show decreased activity in an area of the brain associated with fatigue, according to an article published last week in PLOS ONE. The article details a study that used functional MRI to compare chronic fatigue syndrome suffers to control subjects.

The study results point to use of dopamine-increasing drugs as a possible means of relieving symptoms.

Both sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome and healthy control subjects were imaged as they played a gambling game. The researchers measured the difference in reaction following a win or a loss in terms of activation of the basal ganglia—structures deep within the brain that are thought to be responsible for control of movements, response to rewards, and cognitive functions.

The basal ganglia of the chronic fatigue suffers didn’t show as much excitement after a win as did the corresponding brain areas in the control subjects.

Lead author Andrew Miller, MD, explained the researchers’ thinking:

We chose the basal ganglia because they are primary targets of inflammation in the brain. Results from a number of previous studies suggest that increased inflammation may be a contributing factor to fatigue in CFS patients and may even be the cause in some patients.

Dr. Miller is William P. Timmie Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and director of psychiatric oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. He was quoted in an Emory news release.

“Given mechanistic data suggesting that altered dopamine availability may be a consequence of inflammatory effects on the brain,” the PLOS ONE article says, “our findings suggest that a good avenue for future studies might be exploring whether drugs that increase dopamine availability in the brain would reduce symptom expression in some CFS patients who exhibit basal ganglia changes and/or increased inflammation.”

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