Logistic regression algorithm differentiates gulf war illness (GWI) functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) data from a sedentary control

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Brain Sciences








Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI); Gulf War Illness (GWI); Logistic regression; Machine learning


Gulf War Illness (GWI) is a debilitating condition characterized by dysfunction of cognition, pain, fatigue, sleep, and diverse somatic symptoms with no known underlying pathology. As such, uncovering objective biomarkers such as differential regions of activity within a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scan is important to enhance validity of the criteria for diagnosis. Symptoms are exacerbated by mild activity, and exertional exhaustion is a key complaint amongst sufferers. We modeled this exertional exhaustion by having GWI (n = 80) and sedentary control (n = 31) subjects perform submaximal exercise stress tests on two consecutive days. Cognitive differences were assessed by comparing fMRI scans performed during 2-Back working memory tasks before and after the exercise. Machine learning algorithms were used to identify differences in brain activation patterns between the two groups on Day 1 (before exercise) and Day 2 (after exercise). The numbers of voxels with t > 3.17 (corresponding to p < 0.001 uncorrected) were determined for brain regions defined by the Automated Anatomical Labeling (AAL) atlas. Data were divided 70:30 into training and test sets. Recursive feature selection identified twenty-nine regions of interest (ROIs) that significantly distinguished GWI from control on Day 1 and 28 ROIs on Day 2. Ten regions were present in both models between the two days, including right anterior insula, orbital frontal cortex, thalamus, bilateral temporal poles, and left supramarginal gyrus and cerebellar Crus 1. The models had 70% accuracy before exercise on Day 1 and 85% accuracy after exercise on Day 2, indicating the logistic regression model significantly differentiated subjects with GWI from the sedentary control group. Exercise caused changes in these patterns that may indicate the cognitive differences caused by exertional exhaustion. A second set of predictive models was able to classify previously identified GWI exercise subgroups START, STOPP, and POTS for both Days 1 and Days 2 with 67% and 69% accuracy respectively. This study was the first of its kind to differentiate GWI and the three sub-phenotypes START, STOPP, and POTS from a sedentary control using a logistic regression estimation method.