Brain scans of Gulf War veterans show brain damage

DALLAS - May 25, 2000 - Brain scans of veterans who returned from the Gulf War sick show evidence of significant brain-cell loss, according to UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas researchers.

In the June issue of Radiology, researchers report that sick Gulf War veterans when compared with healthy veterans had 20 percent less brain cells in the brain stem, 12 percent less in the right basal ganglia and 5 percent less in the left basal ganglia. That reduction is similar in magnitude to results found in patients with brain diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis, as well as dementia and other degenerative neurological disorders, although the brain areas affected are different.

"A common question is whether these levels of brain-cell loss found in these veterans are clinically important," said Dr. Robert Haley, UT Southwestern chief of epidemiology and lead author of the study. "You need to ask yourself if you would be willing to give up 5 percent to 25 percent of the brain cells in vital parts of your brain that serve as the relay station for all automatic and subconscious functions of your brain.

"When you sustain such brain-cell losses, you get a host of subtle malfunctions of all systems of the body."

Using magnetic resonance (MR) spectroscopy - highly specialized brain scans that measure chemical levels inside the brain - UT Southwestern researchers found evidence of brain damage that causes a variety of symptoms in sick veterans, including joint pain, fatigue, dizziness and mental confusion. MR spectroscopy explores brain chemistry by using radio waves to measure intracellular concentrations of protons and estimate the concentrations of common brain chemicals.

Previous magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on the veterans found no visible structural changes to the brain. But by using MR spectroscopy, researchers could look at brain chemical levels, which show biochemical and physiological changes

Contact: Mindy Baxter
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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