The compensatory approach of fatigue argues that it is a state caused by task load. The neuropsychiatric approach argues that fatigue is a trait (like depression), unrelated to environmental challenges. We propose that fatigue is an internal state that can be measured behaviorally only by applying specific cognitive tasks. PubMed was searched for articles concerning the relation between fatigue and cognitive performance or brain atrophy or functional MRI, distinguishing between the following cognitive domains: learning/memory, cognitive speed/selective attention, language, visuospatial processing, working memory, alerting/vigilance. Only tasks assessing alerting/vigilance are strongly related to fatigue. Areas with brain atrophy in fatigue patients overlap with brain regions activated in healthy controls performing alerting/vigilance tasks. Fatigue is not a compensatory state, nor a psychogenic trait. It is a feeling with behavioral effects that seems to be caused by brain atrophy or a neurochemical dysfunction of the alerting/vigilance system.
Keywords: Multiple sclerosis; attentional systems; brain atrophy; cognitive testing; fatigue; neuronal networks of attention; vigilance.
© The Author(s), 2014.