Basal ganglia hypermetabolism and symptoms of fatigue during interferon-alpha therapy

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2007 Nov;32(11):2384-92. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1301362. Epub 2007 Feb 28.


Interferon (IFN)-alpha is a cytokine of the innate immune response that is well known for inducing behavioral alterations and has been used to study effects of cytokines on the nervous system. Limited data, however, are available on the sites of action of IFN-alpha within the brain and their relationship with specific IFN-alpha-induced symptoms. Using a longitudinal design, whole-brain metabolic activity as assessed by fluorine-18-labeled fluorodeoxyglucose uptake and positron emission tomography was examined before and 4 weeks after IFN-alpha administration in patients with malignant melanoma. Changes in metabolic activity in relevant brain regions were then correlated with IFN-alpha-induced behavioral changes. IFN-alpha administration was associated with widespread bilateral increases in glucose metabolism in subcortical regions including the basal ganglia and cerebellum. Decreases in dorsal prefrontal cortex glucose metabolism were also observed. Prominent IFN-alpha-induced behavioral changes included lassitude, inability to feel, and fatigue. Correlational analyses revealed that self-reported fatigue (specifically as assessed by the 'energy' subscale of the Visual Analog Scale of Fatigue) was associated with increased glucose metabolism in the left nucleus accumbens and putamen. These data indicate that IFN-alpha as well as other cytokines of the innate immune response may target basal ganglia nuclei, thereby contributing to fatigue-related symptoms in medically ill patients.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Basal Ganglia / diagnostic imaging
  • Basal Ganglia / drug effects*
  • Basal Ganglia / metabolism
  • Behavioral Symptoms / drug therapy
  • Behavioral Symptoms / etiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / complications
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / diagnostic imaging
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / drug therapy*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / pathology*
  • Female
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18 / pharmacokinetics
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / therapeutic use*
  • Interferon-alpha / therapeutic use*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Radiopharmaceuticals / pharmacokinetics


  • Immunologic Factors
  • Interferon-alpha
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18