Written by Anthony Hardie
Image of Hippocampus, courtesy of Morphonix
(91outcomes.com) - During today’s meeting of the Congressionally chartered Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ illnesses, Dr. Michael Weiner of the San Francisco VA Medical Center gave a presentation on his brain imaging research in veterans of the 1991 Gulf War that was unable to reproduce the work of Dr. Robert Haley that found brain changes in three distinct syndromes, but showed limited changes in the brain matter of veterans affected by two Gulf War diseases.
The presentation, entitled, “Effects of Military Service on the Brain,” covered his years of research on the structural brain changes related to Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), Parkinson’s, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and the chronic multi-symptom illness (CMI) shown to affect more than one-third (250,000) veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.
Using sophisticated brain imaging equipment (MRI 1.5 Tesla and 4.0 Tesla), in particular, he found that Gulf War and other veterans suffering from PTSD have atrophy (shrinkage) in a key part of the brain, the hippocampus, which is involved in the complex processes of forming, sorting, and storing memories. Short-term and working memory loss has been a primary symptom reported by ill veterans of the 1991 Gulf War, including those with and without PTSD.
Weiner’s team found that PTSD commonly co-occurs with GWI/CMI, atrophy of the hippocampus region of the brain (particularly in the CA3-dentate portion of the hippocampus, where stem cells reside), a reduced brain chemical (GABA), increased neuropsychological impairments, and increased risk for dementia.
Weiner made it clear that while about 30 percent of his study subjects exhibited symptoms of both PTSD and GWI/CMI, “it is clear that there is something else going on” with the veterans suffering from GWI/CMI. This finding is consistent with a 2010 Institute of Medicine study that declared that the CMI affecting a very large number of veterans of the 1991 Gulf War could not be attributed to any known psychiatric illness.
Weiner’s work now includes further study, a new focus on treatments, and developing “personalized” indicators for optimum treatment response. He is also studying increased, associated risks of developing ALS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Weiner’s team is currently developing future research plans, including a new focus on treatments for Gulf War veterans afflicted by GWI/CMI.