Researchers use electrical neuroimaging to find cause of chronic fatigue syndrome

A team of researchers from the Center for Community Research at DePaul University are using electrical neuroimaging to better understand why the brain is less efficient in people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).

The team—including Marcie Zinn, PhD, senior research associate Mark Zinn, MA, and professor Leonard Jason, PhD—assessed brain issues seen in patients with CFS. Their findings could potentially lead to improved diagnoses and a better understanding of the disease, which affects more than 17 million people worldwide.

"People become traumatized by a debilitating illness and then become traumatized again by the reaction to them by people who don't understand," said Jason in a statement. "This research will examine biological issues involved in this illness.”

"We know that different regions of the brain have to work together to process information, and problems in those networks can produce many symptoms in patients," said Marcie Zinn. "These brain problems in CFS could be the result of bad and/or slow connections." 

As part of their study, researchers will analyze responses from online surveys and assess results from participants 30-minute EEGs. Marcie Zinn states that with this approach, they will be able to see the brain at the millisecond level, about 1,000th of 1 second, “that's the timeframe your brain works in. In contrast, there is about a two- or three-second delay with the functional MRI.”

One of the main differences between EEG and fMRI is that the EEG looks directly at the brain cells while fMRI looks indirectly. Using this new approach, researchers hope that their findings will be able to benefit healthcare professionals in being better equipped to target treatments to help correct patients’ deficits.

"We're studying interactions in the system of the brain, we are studying relationships between neurons,” said Mark Zinn. “Examining the brain on a systems level adds a major advantage to the research approach. ... Our focus is to link patients' signs and symptoms to functional systems in the brain, which contrasts with traditional attempts to link patients' symptoms to brain lesions and other physiological abnormalities.”