Research into the immunological aspects of ME/CFS has been an ongoing quest for the past 25 years. Findings have included low natural killer cell function, dysregulation of the 2’5’A RNase L antiviral pathway, and a predominance of the Th-2 type of cellular immunity that produces certain cytokines to fight infection. Yet the picture remains unclear, possibly because of the range of different kinds of patients coming under this umbrella diagnosis.

Recently, researchers from Bond University, Queensland have brought newer and more sensitive modern assays to the search for markers of immune function (including new markers) that might be useful diagnostically. Compared with 50 control samples, a group of 95 ME/CFS patients had significant changes in a plethora of markers, and those that might be useful for further research included natural killer cell phenotypes, natural killer cell activity, CD8+T cell activity, interleukin-10, interferon-gamma, TNF-alpha, FoxP3 and vasoactive intestinal peptide receptor 2 (VPACR2). The increased expression of some of these markers suggests the presence of a significant inflammatory response which the immune system has to counter in these patients, possibly a response to viral antigens, adjuvants or autoantibodies in the peripheral circulation.

To the researchers, some of these markers seem to be unique to ME/CFS, and the fact that their levels are changed compared with healthy people reflects “significant and important immunological dysregulation that could explain some of the clinical symptoms, for example the ongoing sickness experience” of the ME/CFS population.

Reference: Immunological abnormalities as potential biomarkers in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Brenu EW et al. J Transl Med 2011 May 28; 9: 81.