An overactive immune system may help explain the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, scientists from King’s College London have suggested.
Many sufferers of CFS, or ME, say their condition began with a challenge to their immune system like an infection.
The scientists studied 55 patients with Hepatitis C who were given a drug that causes a similar response to a virus.
Eighteen of those patients had an overactive immune system and went on to develop CFS-like symptoms.
‘It is a light in the fog’
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a long-term illness characterised by extreme tiredness.
Scientists from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College recruited 55 patients who had hepatitis C. A treatment for hepatitis C is the drug interferon-alpha which challenges the immune system in the same way as a powerful infection.
The team measured fatigue and immune markers before, during and after treatment, tracking which people developed the persistent CFS-like illness.
In the 18 patients who developed CFS-like symptoms the team found a much stronger immune response to the medication. Significantly these patients also had an overactive immune system before the treatment started.
Lead researcher Dr Alice Russell from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) said:
“For the first time, we have shown that people who are prone to develop a CFS-like illness have an overactive immune system, both before and during a challenge to the immune system.
“Our findings suggest that people who have an exaggerated immune response to a trigger may be more at risk of developing CFS.”
Senior researcher, Prof Carmine Pariante, added: “This is a light in the fog, a direction of travel. Although screening is a long way off, our results are the first step in identifying those at risk and catching the illness in its crucial early stages.”