Researchers from Austria have highlighted the potential link between compromised immune responses during acute viral infections and the development of post-infectious syndromes, including ME/CFS. They emphasise that when investigating immune responses, it is important to elucidate the role of the mucosal (gut) barrier function. The gut mucosae serve as a protective barrier against external threats, and failure in this protection has been proposed to contribute to post-infectious syndromes – a hypothesis based on frequently observed gastrointestinal issues in individuals with ME/CFS.
For their study, the researchers recruited 39 individuals with ME/CFS and 19 healthy controls. Individuals with ME/CFS were divided into two groups based on their immune status: those with immunodeficiencies and those without. Blood samples were collected to assess various immune components.
- In the group with immunodeficiencies, they found reduced levels of a particular protein (C4a), suggesting a subgroup-specific immune dysregulation. However, it is unclear whether this deficiency contributes to the onset of the disease or is a result of ongoing illness.
- In the ME/CFS group without immunodeficiencies, they observed elevated levels of a bacterial component, lipopolysaccharide-binding protein (LBP), indicating leakage of gut contents into the bloodstream. This gut leakage potentially contributes to chronic low-grade inflammation.
Based on immune status, the ME/CFS subgroups could be distinguished from each other. Understanding this differentiation could be crucial in developing treatment strategies. Overall, the research underscores the importance of investigating whether there are differences in disease mechanisms within ME/CFS.
However, the study acknowledges its limitations, particularly the small sample size. Larger studies are needed to validate these findings and determine their clinical significance.
Read more about a leaky gut and how it may relate to ME/CFS symptoms: