Lead researcher Rakib Rayhan put it this way: "This study can help us move past the controversy in the past decade that Gulf War illness is not real or that vets would be called crazy. Gulf War duties have caused some changes that are not found in normal people."
Rayhan and his colleagues performed an advanced form of MRI for visualizing white matter on 31 vets who experienced Gulf War illness, along with 20 vets and civilians who did not experience the syndrome. Although the researchers focused on white matter in the current study, they are also investigating gray matter regions, said Rayhan, a researcher at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
The results were published March 20 in the journal PLoS One.
The images suggested that there was loss of structural integrity in several white-matter areas in vets with Gulf War illness, particularly in a region that connects gray-matter areas involved in the perception of pain and fatigue, Rayhan said. The researchers observed more disorganization in this area in vets who reported more severe pain and fatigue, and who had a lower threshold for pain in a test that applied pressure to 18 points on the body.
Dr. Robert Haley, director of epidemiology at the University of Texas Southwestern, in Dallas, said the study is very important, and the first to use this type of MRI to examine Gulf War illness.
The findings agree with previous research that found that white-matter regions in the brains of Gulf War vets were smaller than in controls using conventional MRI, said Haley, who was not involved in the research.
Other research by Haley and his colleagues has identified functional differences in some of
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