PhD Position in Biopsychosocial Mechanisms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Their Relevance for Rehabilitation

Catholic University of Leuven

REVAL (UHasselt) is an interdisciplinary and translational research center which performs research in the domains of pediatric, neurologic and musculoskeletal rehabilitation, biomechanics, health psychology, mental health care and rehabilitation of internal diseases. The Research group on Health- and Rehabilitation Psychology specializes in Medically Unexplained Symptoms (MUS) – bodily symptoms for which no sufficient diagnosed organic disease can be found, as is the case in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome. The Laboratory for Brain-Gut Axis Studies (LaBGAS, KU Leuven) is an internationally renowned research group specialized in, among others, biopsychological mechanisms of functional gastrointestinal disorders with expertise in psychobiological measures and neuroimaging techniques such as PET and fMRI. Both research groups start from the conviction that a narrow biomedical disease model ignores the fact that self-reported health complaints are always the result of a complex cerebral integration of afferent signals from the body (bottom-up) and perceptual-cognitive and affective (top-down) processes (= symptom perception). Combining the results of symptom perception research with stress physiological and neurobiological data allows us to transcend dualistic thinking and understand physical complaints from a biopsychosocial perspective. Through experimental and clinical research both groups contribute to the further identification of the underlying biopsychosocial mechanisms of MUS and its translation into more refined treatment components. The current interuniversity PhD project is part of the FWO (Research Foundation Flanders)-sponsored research project “Identifying (psycho)physiology-based subgroups in chronic fatigue syndrome and their relevance for rehabilitation” granted to Prof. Dr. Lukas Van Oudenhove (LaBGAS, KULeuven) and Prof. Dr. Katleen Bogaerts (REVAL, UHasselt).


About 20 000 people in Belgium suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a disorder characterized by persisting fatigue insufficiently explained by known medical or psychiatric conditions. Individuals suffering from CFS experience severe limitations in daily functioning due to their fatigue. Despite intensive research over the past decades, the (psycho)physiological dysfunctions generating CFS symptoms remain poorly understood, and no diagnostic biomarkers for CFS have been identified. Consequently, current treatment options for CFS are limited. Moreover, CFS research has been hampered by emotional dualistic debates about the “psychological” versus “somatic” nature of the disorder, without paying much attention to the possible interactions between physiological and psychological aspects. 

Dysfunction of several (psycho)physiological systems, such as the neuroendocrine stress response system, the immune system, and the central nervous system (including neuroinflammation and changes in functional connectivity in the brain) has been shown in CFS. Health psychology research, on the other hand, has demonstrated distortions in symptom perception in CFS. However, both research lines have not sufficiently been integrated, which is necessary for an integrative biopsychosocial model of CFS. Because different processes seem to play a role, it is plausible that underlying CFS pathophysiology is not the same for every patient. 

The aims of this interuniversity (KULeuven and UHasselt) research project are: 

  1. Test an integrative psychophysiological model of CFS by investigating the relationship between peripheral (psycho)physiological dysfunction (the stress response system, systemic inflammation), brain function (neuroinflammation, functional connectivity) and fatigue perception, both in the lab and in daily life

  2. Identify subgroups in CFS pathophysiology based on a combination of these parameters

  3. Investigate how these subgroups relate to rehabilitation success

The research project runs in close collaboration with UPC KU Leuven and the Multidisciplinary Diagnostic Centre for CFS (UZ Leuven). 


  • We are looking for an enthusiastic and highly motivated candidate with Master degree in a relevant discipline (biomedical sciences, medicine, psychology, neurosciences, rehabilitation sciences, or equivalent).  Final-year students who will have obtained their Master degree by July 2021 are encouraged to apply. 

  • Candidates have a genuine interest in the interaction between bodily, psychological and neural processes. 

  • Besides excellent organizational and experimental research skills, the candidate should possess excellent interpersonal skills and communication skills, both in English and in Dutch. Strong academic writing skills are a prerequisite. 

  • You are very motivated towork with patients in a research setting and are very interested in data-analysis.

  • As the PhD student will work with patients, candidates must master the Dutch language. If Dutch is not your native language, an ERK level C1 is expected. IF YOU DO NOT MASTER DUTCH AT THIS LEVEL, PLEASE REFRAIN FROM APPLYING; YOUR APPLICATION WILL NOT BE TAKEN INTO CONSIDERATION.

  • Experience with (stress)physiological measurement and brain imaging are an asset but not a prerequisite.


  • Joint PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences (UHasselt) and Biomedical Sciences (KU Leuven) with UHasselt as main institution.

  • You will be part of the research groups REVAL (UHasselt) and LaBGAS (KU Leuven). 

  • Full-time employment (38 hours per week) 

  • Estimated net salary per month: ca. EUR 2000,- (depending on qualification, age, and family situation)

  • Duration of contract: 4 years (based on a successful intermediate evaluation at UHasselt after 2 years) 

  • As a partner of the Doctoral School for Health and Life Sciences (UHasselt) and the Leuven International Doctoral School Biomedical Sciences (KULeuven) you are offered the opportunity to participate in a broad spectrum of activities related to training, education, and career development.


For more information please contact Mrs. Maaike Van Den Houte, tel.: +32 16 37 46 95, mail: or Prof. dr. Lukas Van Oudenhove, tel.: +32 16 33 01 47, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than May 04, 2021 via the
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  • Employment percentage: Voltijds
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: May 4, 2021
  • Tags: Chronische Ziekten en Metabolisme