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Biological Chemistry

Metabolite abnormalities pinpointed in chronic fatigue syndrome

Blood plasma study reveals chemical signature associated with lowered metabolic activity

by Stu Borman
September 12, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 36

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also called myalgic encephalomyelitis, is a complex disorder characterized by malaise, sleep problems, and pain. The cause of the condition is unclear and difficult to diagnose and treat.

A metabolomics study now reveals a characteristic chemical signature of the condition in the blood plasma of people with CFS. The work could lead to a diagnostic test for CFS and aid the understanding of its underlying biology and cause.

“The finding of an objective chemical signature in CFS helps remove diagnostic uncertainty, will help clinicians monitor individualized responses to treatment, and will facilitate multicenter clinical trials,” writes Robert K. Naviaux of the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and coworkers, who carried out the study (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2016, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1607571113).

The researchers used liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry to analyze 612 metabolites from 63 biological pathways in blood plasma from 84 men and women, 45 of whom have CFS. Of the 63 pathways, 20 were distinctly perturbed in the CFS subjects relative to non-CFS subjects. Nine of these pathway abnormalities were common to CFS-diagnosed men and women, whereas 11 showed gender differences. The greatest variations in CFS-related metabolites were widespread decreases in concentrations of sphingolipids and glycosphingolipids. Most of the reductions were similar to decreases in metabolite concentrations that occur in dauer, a well-studied worm response to environmental stress.

Industrial analytical chemist Mark Camenzind of San Ramon, Calif., who is a parent of a university student disabled by the condition and an advocate of CFS research, calls the study “one of the most important papers in three decades.”

Naviaux and coworkers caution that the study of larger cohorts from diverse areas and comparison with conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder will be needed to validate the findings.



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Jessica (September 16, 2016 4:17 PM)
Unfortunately the disease ME/CFS needs to be compared to depression and PTSD patients due to the UK psychiatric lobby and the #PACEtrial but so be it.

This research does need funding and a good number of cohorts with these mental health issues now need to be compared. MS, ALS, Parkinson, AIDS, Diabetes, Hypothyroid and Hyperthyroid need to be cohorts. Cohorts, expansion, replication. Funding!

More from Dr. Ron Davis and Dr. Robert Naviaux on the paper "Metabolic signatures of chronic fatigue syndrome" can be found here:

We don't have years and years to do this. It needed to be done years ago.
Mark Camenzind (September 18, 2016 1:09 AM)
More studies are clearly needed across other locations also, so more NIH funding is needed. The funding for ME/CFS has been on order of $2/year per affected patient vs $2000 spent per patient for some less severe diseases. More appropriate funding is needed to make more rapid progress on this major but neglected disease that affects on order of a million or more in US and many more worldwide. This is orders of magnitude more common than Zika and Ebola and is here now. It is a perfect time for NIH to put more focus on solving this "Forgotten Plague" that remains one of the great chronic disease mysteries.

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