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Papers of the Week

2022 Jan 19

Brain Sci



Review of the Midbrain Ascending Arousal Network Nuclei and Implications for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), Gulf War Illness (GWI) and Postexertional Malaise (PEM).


Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS and Gulf War Illness (GWI) share features of post-exertional malaise (PEM), exertional exhaustion, or postexertional symptom exacerbation. In a two-day model of PEM, submaximal exercise induced significant changes in activation of the dorsal midbrain during a high cognitive load working memory task (Washington 2020) (Baraniuk this issue). Controls had no net change. However, ME/CFS had increased activity after exercise, while GWI had significantly reduced activity indicating differential responses to exercise and pathological mechanisms. These data plus findings of the midbrain and brainstem atrophy in GWI inspired a review of the anatomy and physiology of the dorsal midbrain and isthmus nuclei in order to infer dysfunctional mechanisms that may contribute to disease pathogenesis and postexertional malaise. The nuclei of the ascending arousal network were addressed. Midbrain and isthmus nuclei participate in threat assessment, awareness, attention, mood, cognition, pain, tenderness, sleep, thermoregulation, light and sound sensitivity, orthostatic symptoms, and autonomic dysfunction and are likely to contribute to the symptoms of postexertional malaise in ME/CFS and GWI.