Mapping of pathological change in chronic fatigue syndrome using the ratio of T1- and T2-weighted MRI scans

Neuroimage Clin. 2020;28:102366. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2020.102366. Epub 2020 Jul 31.


Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) subjects suffer from a variety of cognitive complaints indicating that the central nervous system plays a role in its pathophysiology. Recently, the ratio T1w/T2w has been used to study changes in tissue myelin and/or iron levels in neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia. In this study, we applied the T1w/T2w method to detect changes in tissue microstructure in ME/CFS patients relative to healthy controls. We mapped the T1w/T2w signal intensity values in the whole brain for forty-five ME/CFS patients who met Fukuda criteria and twenty-seven healthy controls and applied both region- and voxel-based quantification. We also performed interaction-with-group regressions with clinical measures to test for T1w/T2w relationships that are abnormal in ME/CFS at the population level. Region-based analysis showed significantly elevated T1w/T2w values (increased myelin and/or iron) in ME/CFS in both white matter (WM) and subcortical grey matter. The voxel-based group comparison with sub-millimetre resolution voxels detected very significant clusters with increased T1w/T2w in ME/CFS, mostly in subcortical grey matter, but also in brainstem and projection WM tracts. No areas with decreased T1w/T2w were found in either analysis. ME/CFS T1w/T2w regressions with heart-rate variability, cognitive performance, respiration rate and physical well-being were abnormal in both gray and white matter foci. Our study demonstrates that the T1w/T2w approach is very sensitive and shows increases in myelin and/or iron in WM and basal ganglia in ME/CFS.

Keywords: Basal ganglia; Iron; Myalgic encephalomyelitis/Chronic fatigue syndrome; Myelin; T1w/T2w ratio; T1weighted; T2weighted; Tissue microstructure; White matter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic* / diagnostic imaging
  • Female
  • Gray Matter
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myelin Sheath
  • White Matter* / diagnostic imaging