Researchers identify similar brain structure changes in ME/CFS and Long Covid

Researchers identify similar brain structure changes in ME/CFS and Long Covid

ABC News reports on a small study from Griffith University where scientists used a high-powered magnetic resonance imaging scanner to compare the brains of 28 adults. 8 people had Long Covid, 10 had ME/CFS, and 10 were healthy volunteers. They discovered similarities in brain stem size for those with Long Covid and ME/CFS. Lead researcher Kiran Thapaliya said these similarities may explain why they exhibited common core symptoms, such as brain fog, fatigue, pain and breathing difficulties.

ME Association Comment

Despite this being a small study, significant results were found showing abnormalities in the brainstem volume in ME/CFS and Long Covid, specifically:

  • ME/CFS had larger volumes in several areas of the brainstem (whole and pons) compared to healthy controls. The pons is located at the base of the brain, between the medulla oblongata and the midbrain. It is part of the brainstem and central nervous system.
  • Long Covid patients also had larger volumes in several areas of the brainstem, these were: whole brainstem, pons and superior cerebellar peduncle compared to healthy controls.
  • No significant differences were found between the brain volumes in ME/CFS and Long Covid, demonstrating similar brainstem abnormalities.
  • Brainstem volumes were also correlated to symptoms, such as pain and breathing difficulties.

There are not many negatives that can be pointed out in the study design. However, it is a shame that there was a huge imbalance of females: males, for example in the healthy control group there were 7 females to 3 males. With such small sample sizes, the strength of the study could be improved by just using one sex, or a less unbalanced ratio. Longitudinal changes would also be interesting, especially seeing as the duration of illness will vary in ME/CFS and Long Covid.

Dr Katrina Pears,
Research Correspondent.
The ME Association.

Dr Katrina Pears - MEA Research Correspondent
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