Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Unique Brain Chemistry Changes Found

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Scientists have identified a unique molecular signature for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a brain disorder once thought to have psychological origins.

The investigators believe this study forms the groundwork needed to better understand CFS, and treat it effectively.

“This news will be well received by patients who suffer from [this disorder] who are misdiagnosed and instead may be treated for depression or other mental disorders,” said lead researcher James N. Baraniuk, M.D., professor of medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

The research team noted that after a period of exercise, those with CFS had specific changes in brain chemistry, different from brain alterations associated with depression, fibromyalgia, and other conditions. Distinctive brain changes were also found in those with Gulf War Illness (GWI). People with both CFS and GWI experience fatigue, pain, cognitive dysfunction, and exhaustion following exercise.

More specifically, after study participants rode a stationary bike for 25 minutes, the investigators noticed differences in their levels of miRNAs (microRNAs), molecules that turn protein production on or off.

Before and after exercising the participants with CFS, and the control subjects, underwent spinal taps. The spinal fluid showed that miRNA levels were the same for all participants before exercising, but were distinctly different afterward. The study also revealed that CFS subjects who exercised had lower amounts of 12 miRNAs, compared to those with CFS who didn’t exercise.

CFS was initially considered a psychosomatic disorder, but a 2015 review of 9,000 CFS papers showed the condition has unspecified biological causes. Now, it’s hoped the work by Dr. Baraniuk and colleagues will pave the way for a definitive CFS diagnosis, and effective treatments.

The research findings were published in Scientific Reports.

Source: Georgetown University Medical Center
Photo credit: Alachua County


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