The impact of the 1991 Gulf War on the mind and brain: Findings from neuropsychological and neuroimaging research

  • Vasterling J
  • Bremner J
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Many veterans of the 1991 Gulf War (GW) have complained of somatic and cognitive symptoms that may be neurological in nature. However, whether or not changes in brain function are associated with GW service continues to be debated. Studies of GW veterans using objective, performance-based neuropsychological measures have yielded inconsistent findings, with those indicating deficits among GW veterans typically revealing only relatively mild levels of neuropsychological impairment. Further, performances on objective neuropsychological tasks show little correspondence to subjective perceptions of cognitive functioning. Although preliminary magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) studies demonstrate reduced N-acetylaspartate-to-creatine (NAA/Cr) ratio in select brain regions among GW veterans who report health concerns, this work requires further replication with larger, more representative samples. There is no evidence from neuroimaging studies of a non-specific effect of GW service or of changes in brain structure or function related to health status when conventional radiological methods are used. Owing to the paucity of objective exposure, baseline health data, and the now significant time elapsed since the GW, aetiological issues may never be fully resolved. Therefore, research addressing clinical management of GW veterans with neuropsychological dysfunction and neuroimaging abnormalities may prove more fruitful than exclusive focus on aetiology.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Brain
  • Cognition
  • Gulf War
  • Neuroimaging
  • Neuropsychological functioning

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  • Jennifer J. Vasterling

  • J. Douglas Bremner

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