Impaired associative learning in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) report cognitive

difficulties (impaired attention, memory and reasoning).

Neuropsychological tests have failed to consistently find

cognitive impairments to the degree reported by CFS patients.

We tested patients with CFS and sedentary controls in

protocols designed to measure sensory reactivity and

acquisition of the classically conditioned eyeblink response.

Patients with CFS exhibited normal sensitivity and

responsivity to acoustic stimuli. However, CFS patients

displayed impaired acquisition of the eyeblink response using

a delayed-type conditioning paradigm. Sensitivity and

responsivity to the airpuff stimulus were normal. In the

absence of sensory/motor abnormalities, impaired acquisition

of the classically conditioned eyeblink response indicates an

associative deficit. These data suggest organic brain

dysfunction within a defined neural substrate in CFS patients.

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