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Papers of the Week

2020 07

Brain Behav Immun


In-vivo imaging of neuroinflammation in Veterans with Gulf War Illness.


Alshelh Z, Albrecht DS, Bergan C, Akeju O, Clauw DJ, Conboy L, Edwards RR, Kim M, Lee YC, Protsenko E, Napadow V, Sullivan K, Loggia ML
Brain Behav Immun. 2020 07; 87:498-507.
PMID: 32027960.


Gulf War Illness (GWI) is a chronic disorder affecting approximately 30% of the veterans who served in the 1991 Gulf War. It is characterised by a constellation of symptoms including musculoskeletal pain, cognitive problems and fatigue. The cause of GWI is not definitively known but exposure to neurotoxicants, the prophylactic use of pyridostigmine bromide (PB) pills, and/or stressors during deployment have all been suspected to play some pathogenic role. Recent animal models of GWI have suggested neuroinflammatory mechanisms may be implicated, including a dysregulated activation of microglia and astrocytes. However, neuroinflammation has not previously been directly observed in veterans with GWI. To measure GWI-related neuroinflammation in GW veterans, we conducted a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) study using [C]PBR28, which binds to the 18 kDa translocator protein (TSPO), a protein upregulated in activated microglia/macrophages and astrocytes. GWI (n=15) and healthy controls (HC, n=33, including a subgroup of healthy Gulf War veterans, HC, n=8), were examined using integrated [C]PBR28 PET/MRI. Standardized uptake values normalized by occipital cortex signal (SUVR) were compared across groups and against clinical variables and circulating inflammatory cytokines (TNF-α, IL-6 and IL-1β). SUVR were validated against volume of distribution ratio (n=13). Whether compared to the whole HC group, or only the HC subgroup, veterans with GWI demonstrated widespread cortical elevations in [C]PBR28 PET signal, in areas including precuneus, prefrontal, primary motor and somatosensory cortices. There were no significant group differences in the plasma levels of the inflammatory cytokines evaluated. There were also no significant correlations between [C]PBR28 PET signal and clinical variables or circulating inflammatory cytokines. Our study provides the first direct evidence of brain upregulation of the neuroinflammatory marker TSPO in veterans with GWI and supports the exploration of neuroinflammation as a therapeutic target for this disorder.