Fatigue in multiple sclerosis (MS) occurs commonly, sometimes as the earliest symptom. Some MS patients consider fatigue to be their most troublesome complaint, and it has been shown to be an independent predictor of impaired quality of life. Several reports have demonstrated that subcortical gray matter pathology is related to fatigue. We hypothesized that MRI detectable changes in the deep gray matter of MS patients may correlate with fatigue severity. Our objective was: to assess the relationship between fatigue severity and detectable changes on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), quantified using the mean T1 relaxation time (T1), in deep gray matter structures in relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). Using region of interest analysis, T1 values were measured for the thalamus, putamen and caudate nucleus in 52 RRMS patients and 19 healthy volunteers. Fatigue was assessed using the Fatigue Severity Scale.
Results: The median T1 in the thalamus and the putamen were significantly higher in the patient cohort than in the healthy controls; the median T1 in the caudate was also higher in the MS patients but did not reach statistical significance. There was a significant correlation between fatigue severity and the T1 of the thalamus (rho = 0.418; p = 0.014). Furthermore, the median T1 in the thalamus was significantly higher in patients with fatigue compared with those without (p = 0.018). Our results provide further evidence for the role of subcortical gray matter structures in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis (MS)-related fatigue. This study also demonstrates that T1 relaxation time measurement is a suitable technique for detecting abnormalities of the deep gray matter in RRMS and presents further support of gray matter involvement in MS.