Biomarkers Yield Clues To Cognitive Dysfunction in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

A unique pattern of immune molecules found in the cerebrospinal fluid of people with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) provides insights into the basis for cognitive dysfunction–frequently described by patients as “brain fog”.

Scientists at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health who uncovered the molecules say the finding also provides new hope for improvements in diagnosis and treatment.

For the study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, Mady Hornig, MD, and colleagues used immunoassay testing methods to measure the levels of 51 immune biomarkers called cytokines in the cerebrospinal fluid of 32 people with ME/CFS for an average of seven years, 40 with multiple sclerosis, and 19 non-diseased controls.

Depressed Interleukin 1

The researchers found that levels of most cytokines, including the inflammatory immune molecule, interleukin 1, were depressed in individuals with ME/CFS compared with the other two groups, matching what was seen in the blood study in patients who had the disease for more than three years.

One cytokine, eotaxin, was elevated in the ME/CFS and MS groups, but not in the control group.

Said Dr. Hornig, professor of Epidemiology and director of translational research at the Center for Infection and Immunity at the Mailman School:

“We now know that the same changes to the immune system that we recently reported in the blood of people with ME/CFS with long-standing disease are also present in the central nervous system. These immune findings may contribute to symptoms in both the peripheral parts of the body and the brain, from muscle weakness to brain fog.”

Added W. Ian Lipkin, MD, John Snow Professor of Epidemiology and director of the Center for Infection and Immunity:

“Diagnosis of ME/CFS is now based on clinical criteria. Our findings offer the hope of objective diagnostic tests for disease as well as the potential for therapies that correct the imbalance in cytokine levels seen in people with ME/CFS at different stages of their disease.”

Reference:

M Hornig, G Gottschalk, D L Peterson, K K Knox, A F Schultz, M L Eddy, X Che, W I Lipkin.
Cytokine network analysis of cerebrospinal fluid in myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome.
Molecular Psychiatry, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/mp.2015.29

Photo: Tobylyn Marjeta/flickr