Background In primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) fatigue is a major clinical challenge of unknown etiology. By demonstrating that fatigue in PBC is associated with an impaired cognitive performance, previous studies have pointed out the possibility of brain abnormalities underlying fatigue in PBC. Whether structural brain changes are present in PBC patients with fatigue, however, is unclear. To evaluate the role of structural brain abnormalities in PBC patients severely affected from fatigue we, therefore, performed a case-control cerebral magnetic resonance imaging (cMRI) study and correlated changes of white and grey brain matter with the cognitive and attention performance. Methods 20 female patients with PBC and 20 female age-matched controls were examined in this study. The assessment of fatigue, psychological symptoms, cognitive and attention performance included clinical questionnaires, established cognition tests and a computerized test battery of attention performance. T1-weighted cMRI and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scans were acquired with a 3 Tesla scanner. Structural brain alterations were investigated with voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and DTI analyses. Results were correlated to the cognitive and attention performance. Results Compared to healthy controls, PBC patients had significantly higher levels of fatigue and associated psychological symptoms. Except for an impairment of verbal fluency, no cognitive or attention deficits were found in the PBC cohort. The VBM and DTI analyses revealed neither major structural brain abnormalities in the PBC cohort nor correlations with the cognitive and attention performance. Conclusions Despite the high burden of fatigue and selected cognitive deficits, the attention performance of PBC patients appears to be comparable to healthy people. As structural brain alterations do not seem to be present in PBC patients with fatigue, fatigue in PBC must be regarded as purely functional. Future studies should evaluate, whether functional brain changes underlie fatigue in PBC.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)