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Mil Med. 2011 Aug;176(8):896-902.

The relationship between Gulf War illness, brain N-acetylaspartate, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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  • 1Center for Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases, VA Medical Center, 4150 Clement Street (114M), San Francisco, CA 94121, USA.


A previous study (Haley RW, Marshall WW, McDonald GG, Daugherty MA, Petty F, Fleckenstein JL: Brain abnormalities in Gulf War syndrome: evaluation with 1H MR spectroscopy. Radiology 2000; 215: 807-817) suggested that individuals with Gulf War Illness (GWI) had reduced quantities of the neuronal marker N-acetylaspartate (NAA) in the basal ganglia and pons. This study aimed to determine whether NAA is reduced in these regions and to investigate correlations with other possible causes of GWI, such as psychological response to stress in a large cohort of Gulf War veterans. Individuals underwent tests to determine their physical and psychological health and to identify veterans with (n=81) and without (n=97) GWI. When concentrations of NAA and ratios of NAA to creatine- and choline-containing metabolites were measured in the basal ganglia and pons, no significant differences were found between veterans with or without GWI, suggesting that GWI is not associated with reduced NAA in these regions. Veterans with GWI had significantly higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, supporting the idea that GWI symptoms are stress related.

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