Infectious triggers and mitochondrial dysfunction in ME/CFS

Principal investigator

Dr Bhupesh Prusty

Institution

Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg

Start date

August 2021

Funding

This project is funded by ME Research UK with the financial support of The Gordon Parish Charitable Trust.

Background and aim

Human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6), human herpesvirus 7 and Epstein-Barr virus have all been implicated as potential infectious triggers of ME/CFS. One way in which viral infection may lead to the development of physical fatigue is through alterations to the mitochondria.

The mitochondria are responsible for generating energy in the cells of the body, including in the skeletal muscles. An abnormality in energy production in muscle cells has been suggested as a possible cause of the muscle fatigue experienced by people with ME/CFS.

Viral infection will result in a protective immune response, but this immune response may also cause damage to the mitochondria. While there is evidence for this link, the exact mechanism involved is not known. And this is where Dr Prusty’s new study comes in.

Dr Bhupesh Prusty

Dr Bhupesh Prusty is a well-established researcher at the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg, who has been particularly interested in human herpesviruses – specifically the mechanisms underlying the reactivation of these viruses, their impact on the mitochondria, and their potential role in diseases including ME/CFS.

Dr Prusty’s hypothesis is that the changes to the mitochondria seen in people with ME/CFS may be due to a number of possible factors transferred in the blood plasma, and this has been backed up by some of his previous research.

The aim of Dr Prusty’s new study is to identify and characterise some of these factors in blood samples from ME/CFS patients and healthy control subjects, and to look at the potential effects of these factors on mitochondrial function. He also plans to look at how primary viral infections might cause reactivation of latent viruses.

The results will hopefully lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms leading to mitochondrial dysfunction in ME/CFS, and may help in the development of new treatments.

Dr Prusty introduces his research in the short video below.

The Gordon Parish Charitable Trust

This study was made possible thanks to the generous financial support of The Gordon Parish Charitable Trust. Dr Parish was one of the group of trustees who founded ME Research UK in 2000, and was a valued patron.

Read more about Dr Parish's life and work

Dr J. Gordon Parish was the last survivor of a handful of British medical doctors who diagnosed and treated people with ME (Myalgic encephalomyelitis), and who became leading advocates of the need to recognise, diagnose, investigate and treat the disease (notable others include Dr A. Melvin Ramsay, Dr John Richardson and Dr Betty Dowsett). Through their valiant efforts, extending from the 1950s to the present day, the existence of ME and its effects on the lives of patients and their families was not lost to history. As Dr Vance Spence, former Chairman of ME Research UK, said: “The ME world owes an enormous debt to their quiet persistence, their professional approach and their dedication to keeping the flame alive.”

Dr Parish, died aged 92, on September 13th 2017 at his home in the village of Stanley in rural Perthshire. He was one of the group of trustees who founded ME Research UK (originally called MERGE) in 2000, becoming a valued patron thereafter. Without his intellectual and financial support, particularly in the very early days, the charity would not have survived and prospered. He was a great advocate of the need to recognise ME as a distinct clinical entity, and through the years he kept a close interest in the scientific projects funded by ME Research UK. 

After his war-time medical training, Dr Parish took up posts in the North of England, and it was while working in Durham in the mid 1950s that he contracted ME, recovering thereafter but suffering recurrences of the original illness at various times over the next 60 years. Afterwards, the family moved to Canada but returned to England where Dr Parish ended his working life as a Consultant in Rehabilitation Medicine at Mary’s Hospital in Colchester. It was there that he saw many patients with an ME-like illness similar to his own, and Dr Parish became dedicated to their care and convinced of the need for scientific investigation of the disease. It was his firm belief that ME had an infectious cause, probably viral, and he devoted much of his spare time to writing scientific letters and articles, and to identifying outbreaks of the illness as they appeared in the scientific literature. By the end of the 1970s, he had identified 47 possible epidemics of ME across the world, from Los Angeles (1934) to Southampton, England (1979). Over time, he not only tabulated these epidemics (table available on the ME Research UK website) but brought together an extensive archive of the literature on each, which he made available to researchers. A summary of the information he collected appears as Chapters 1 and 16 of “The Clinical and Scientific Basis of ME/CFS” published by the Nightingale Research Foundation in 1992 (free download available).

Dr Parish endowed the charitable Trust which bears his name to fund research into the illness he experienced and had spent a lifetime studying. The trustees of the Gordon Parish Charitable Trust decided that its objectives were best served by applying all available funds through ME Research UK and thereafter dissolving – ME Research UK having agreed that funds entrusted to it be used for viral research in line with the late Dr Parish’s lifetime work.