A new scientific paper from the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health has revealed “distinct plasma immune signatures” in the early stages of ME/CFS. The report – which appears in the AAAS journal, Science Advances – describes the measurement of 51 immune biomarkers in blood plasma samples collected from 2 large multicenter studies, representing 298 ME/CFS patients and 348 healthy controls.
The headline finding is that patients who had the disease for three years or less had a specific immune ‘signature’ that was not present in healthy controls or in patients who had been ill for more than three years. Patients with a shorter duration of illness had increased amounts of many different types of immune molecules called cytokines. In particular, there was a marked association with the cytokine interferon gamma that has been linked to the fatigue that follows many viral infections, including Epstein-Barr virus which causes infectious mononucleosis (glandular fever). Age affected the results, but the immune differences could not be explained by age differences between the short-duration illness and long-duration illness groups.
As lead author Prof Mady Hornig, director of translational research at the Center for Infection, points out, ME/CFS patients seem to be flush with cytokines until around the 3-year mark, at which point the immune system shows evidence of exhaustion and cytokine levels drop. The results support the idea that ME/CFS may reflect an infectious ‘hit-and-run’ event. Patients often report getting sick, sometimes from something as common as infectious mononucleosis, and never fully recover. These infections throw a wrench in the immune system’s ability to quiet itself after the acute infection; the immune response becomes like a car stuck in high gear.