Research

Do lipid droplets play a role in ME/CFS?

ME Research UK is currently helping to fund the work of Dr Sarah Annesley at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. The main topic of her research is investigating mitochondrial dysfunction in ME/CFS, including supervising a PhD project in this area.

But Dr Annesley has also been involved in a study measuring the characteristics of lipid droplets in fibroblast cells from people with ME/CFS, and the results of that study were recently published in the journal Advanced Sensor Research.

Lipids are important fatty substances in the body. They help form the membranes of cells, they store energy, and they can act as messengers, as well as having several other functions.

A lipid droplet is a collection of lipids within a circular structure. But more than just being lipid reservoirs, lipid droplets are now known to perform a number of functions, including being involved in energy metabolism, the cellular stress response, and the progression of diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and infections.

There is some evidence of abnormal lipid metabolism and changes to lipid droplets in people with ME/CFS, but there is still a lot more to understand.

In this study, the researchers developed a new technique – a fluorogenic probe – to measure lipid droplets in fibroblast cells from ME/CFS patients (fibroblasts are involved in creating connective tissue and in wound healing).

Cells from ME/CFS patients had fewer but significantly larger lipid droplets than those from healthy control subjects, and this is consistent with previous findings in blood cells from two individuals.

The paper was mainly focused on the development and validation of the fluorogenic probe, and the researchers believe that the method will have a number of different applications in lipid droplet research.

But the findings in ME/CFS are interesting in themselves as this is a relatively fresh area for the disease, and it will be fascinating to see more research using this technique to investigate the potential role of lipid droplets in ME/CFS.

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