Neuroimaging characteristics of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS): a systematic review, by Zack Y. Shan, Leighton R Barnden, Richard A Kwiatek, Sandeep Bhuta, Daniel F Hermens, Jim Lagopoulos in Journal of Translational Medicine Vol 18, #335 Sep 1 2020


Review abstract: 


Since the 1990s, neuroimaging has been utilised to study Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), a debilitating illness with unknown aetiology. While brain abnormalities in ME/CFS have been identified, relatively little is known regarding which specific abnormalities are consistently observed across research groups and to what extent the observed abnormalities are reproducible.


To identify consistent and inconsistent neuroimaging observations in ME/CFS, this retrospective and systematic review searched for studies in which neuroimaging was used to investigate brain abnormalities in ME/CFS in Ovid MEDLINE, PubMed (NCBI), and Scopus from January 1988 to July 2018. A qualitative synthesis of observations was performed to identify brain abnormalities that were consistently and inconsistently reported.


63 full-text articles were included in the synthesis of results from 291 identified papers. Additional brain area recruitment for cognitive tasks and abnormalities in the brain stem are frequent observations in 11 and 9 studies using different modalities from different research teams respectively. Also, sluggish blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) signal responses to tasks, reduced serotonin transporters, and regional hypometabolism are consistent observations by more than two research teams. Single observations include abnormal brain tissue properties, regional metabolic abnormalities, and association of brain measures with ME/CFS symptoms. Reduced resting cerebral blood flow and volumetric brain changes are inconsistent observations across different studies.


Neuroimaging studies of ME/CFS have frequently observed additional brain area recruitment during cognitive tasks and abnormalities in the brain stem. The frequent observation of additional brain area recruitment and consistent observation of sluggish fMRI signal response suggest abnormal neurovascular coupling in ME/CFS.

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