Persistent fatigue in post-acute COVID syndrome is associated with altered T1 MRI texture in subcortical structures: a preliminary investigation

Behav Brain Res. 2024 Jul 9:469:115045. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2024.115045. Epub 2024 May 9.


Post-acute COVID syndrome (PACS) is a global health concern and is often associated with debilitating symptoms. Post-COVID fatigue is a particularly frequent and troubling issue, and its underlying mechanisms remain incompletely understood. One potential contributor is micropathological injury of subcortical and brainstem structures, as has been identified in other patient populations. Texture-based analysis (TA) may be used to measure such changes in anatomical MRI data. The present study develops a methodology of voxel-wise TA mapping in subcortical and brainstem regions, which is then applied to T1-weighted MRI data from a cohort of 48 individuals who had PACS (32 with and 16 without ongoing fatigue symptoms) and 15 controls who had cold and flu-like symptoms but tested negative for COVID-19. Both groups were assessed an average of 4-5 months post-infection. There were no significant differences between PACS and control groups, but significant differences were observed within the PACS groups, between those with and without fatigue symptoms. This included reduced texture energy and increased entropy, along with reduced texture correlation, cluster shade and profile in the putamen, pallidum, thalamus and brainstem. These findings provide new insights into the neurophysiological mechanisms that underlie PACS, with altered tissue texture as a potential biomarker of this debilitating condition.

Keywords: Brain anatomy; Fatigue; MRI; Microstructure; Post-COVID-19 condition; Texture.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain Stem* / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Stem* / pathology
  • COVID-19* / complications
  • COVID-19* / diagnostic imaging
  • Fatigue* / diagnostic imaging
  • Fatigue* / etiology
  • Fatigue* / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome*
  • Putamen / diagnostic imaging
  • Putamen / pathology
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Thalamus / diagnostic imaging
  • Thalamus / pathology