Brain scans of Gulf War veterans show brain damage

basal ganglia and 26 percent less NAA in the brain stem, compared with healthy veterans of the same age, sex and educational level.

NAA is the brain chemical that indicates the number of functioning brain cells in the area being scanned. Finding less NAA in the deep brain structures of the sick veterans implies that many brain cells have either been destroyed or become too damaged to function.

The varying magnitude of loss of brain function explains why some veterans are sicker than others are, while some suffer only mild symptoms.

As a consequence of having the greatest loss of brain cells, veterans with Syndrome 2 have the highest rate of occupational disability, report the worst vertigo attacks and performed the worst on objective medical tests of brain function. Veterans with Syndromes 1 and 3 are generally still able to work, have less dizziness, performed better on the medical tests and were found to have less severe loss of brain cells on the brain scans.

On brain-function tests, sick veterans with the greatest loss of brain cells performed similarly to victims of the Tokyo subway sarin nerve gas attack.

In previous studies, Haley and his colleagues have shown that Gulf War veterans who complain of being sick have genetically lower levels of a blood enzyme, PON-Q that fights off nerve gas making them more susceptible to illness from low levels of nerve-gas exposure. In the new study, those veterans born with the lowest PON-Q levels were found to have the greatest loss of functional brain cells measured by MR spectroscopy.

Other UT Southwestern authors include Dr. Frederick Petty, professor of psychiatry; Dr. W. Wesley Marshall, an adjunct instructor in internal medicine; Dr. George G. McDonald, a former UT Southwestern assistant professor of radiology; and Mark A. Daugherty, a former UT Southwestern radiological technician.


Contact: Mindy Baxter
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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