Hyperintense sensorimotor T1 spin echo MRI is associated with brainstem abnormality in CFS by Leighton R. Barnden, Zack Y. Shan, Donald R Staines, Sonya Marshall-Gradisnik, Kevin Finegan, Timothy Ireland, Sandeep Bhuta, in NeuroImage: Clinical Volume 20, 2018, Pages 102-109

Research abstract:
We recruited 43 Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) subjects who met Fukuda criteria and 27 healthy controls and performed 3T MRI T1 and T2 weighted spin-echo (T1wSE and T2wSE) scans. T1wSE signal follows T1 relaxation rate (1/T1 relaxation time) and responds to myelin and iron (ferritin) concentrations.

We performed MRI signal level group comparisons with SPM12. Spatial  normalization after segmentation was performed using T2wSE scans and applied to the coregistered T1wSE scans.

After global signal-level normalization of individual scans, the T1wSE group comparison detected decreased signal-levels in CFS in a brainstem region (cluster-based inference controlled for family wise error rate, PFWE= 0.002), and increased signal-levels in large bilateral clusters in sensorimotor cortex white matter (cluster PFWE < 0.0001). Moreover, the brainstem T1wSE values were negatively correlated with the sensorimotor values for both CFS (R2 = 0.31, P = 0.00007) and healthy controls (R2 = 0.34, P = 0.0009), and the regressions were co-linear.

This relationship, previously unreported in either healthy controls or CFS, in view of known thalamic projection-fibre plasticity, suggests brainstem conduction deficits in CFS may stimulate the upregulation of myelin in the sensorimotor cortex to maintain brainstem – sensorimotor connectivity.

VBM did not find group differences in regional grey matter or white matter volumes. We argued that increased T1wSE observed in sensorimotor WM in CFS indicates increased myelination which is a regulatory response to deficits in the brainstem although the causality cannot be tested in this study.

Altered brainstem myelin may have broad consequences for cerebral function and should be a focus of future research.

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