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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

EEG spectral coherence data distinguish chronic fatigue syndrome patients from healthy controls and depressed patients-A case control study

Frank H Duffy1*, Gloria B McAnulty2, Michelle C McCreary3, George J Cuchural4 and Anthony L Komaroff3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neurology, Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, 300 Longwood Ave, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA

2 Department of Psychiatry, Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, 300 Longwood Ave, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA

3 Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, 75 Francis St, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA

4 Department of Medicine, Tufts Medical Center, 800 Washington Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02111, USA

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BMC Neurology 2011, 11:82  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-11-82

Published: 1 July 2011

Abstract

Background

Previous studies suggest central nervous system involvement in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), yet there are no established diagnostic criteria. CFS may be difficult to differentiate from clinical depression. The study's objective was to determine if spectral coherence, a computational derivative of spectral analysis of the electroencephalogram (EEG), could distinguish patients with CFS from healthy control subjects and not erroneously classify depressed patients as having CFS.

Methods

This is a study, conducted in an academic medical center electroencephalography laboratory, of 632 subjects: 390 healthy normal controls, 70 patients with carefully defined CFS, 24 with major depression, and 148 with general fatigue. Aside from fatigue, all patients were medically healthy by history and examination. EEGs were obtained and spectral coherences calculated after extensive artifact removal. Principal Components Analysis identified coherence factors and corresponding factor loading patterns. Discriminant analysis determined whether spectral coherence factors could reliably discriminate CFS patients from healthy control subjects without misclassifying depression as CFS.

Results

Analysis of EEG coherence data from a large sample (n = 632) of patients and healthy controls identified 40 factors explaining 55.6% total variance. Factors showed highly significant group differentiation (p < .0004) identifying 89.5% of unmedicated female CFS patients and 92.4% of healthy female controls. Recursive jackknifing showed predictions were stable. A conservative 10-factor discriminant function model was subsequently applied, and also showed highly significant group discrimination (p < .001), accurately classifying 88.9% unmedicated males with CFS, and 82.4% unmedicated male healthy controls. No patient with depression was classified as having CFS. The model was less accurate (73.9%) in identifying CFS patients taking psychoactive medications. Factors involving the temporal lobes were of primary importance.

Conclusions

EEG spectral coherence analysis identified unmedicated patients with CFS and healthy control subjects without misclassifying depressed patients as CFS, providing evidence that CFS patients demonstrate brain physiology that is not observed in healthy normals or patients with major depression. Studies of new CFS patients and comparison groups are required to determine the possible clinical utility of this test. The results concur with other studies finding neurological abnormalities in CFS, and implicate temporal lobe involvement in CFS pathophysiology.