Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) is a rather mysterious illness. The primary symptom of this illness is extreme levels of fatigue which is usually unrelenting. Other problems include sleep problems, flu-like symptoms, joint pains, and myalgia.
Researchers are not sure about the causes of CFS or what triggers it. Some of the most common suggestions provided in this regard include the presence of an infection, whether viral or bacterial, hormonal imbalances, alterations in the immune system, and mental health problems.
Due to this, scientists have failed to design a proper system that may help in the diagnosis of CFS. The current treatments in this regard only tend to relieve the symptoms.
Over the years, the research and interest in the role of the immune system in the development and progression of CFS have grown.
Most of the people presenting with CFS often report a history of an infection or any other problem that disrupts their immune system. These reports tend to be very common, however, as soon as the symptoms appear, it becomes impossible to check how the body was functioning before their arrival.
Researchers belonging to the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience at the King’s College London utilized an innovative model to go deeper into the mechanisms and causes of CFS.
The Role of Interferon-alpha
The researchers aimed at investigating the people who were undergoing treatment for hepatitis C with a medicine known as interferon-alpha. This medicine works by targeting the immune system in a way similar to that of an infection.
People who normally take a course of this medicine tend to report CFS-like symptoms. A small number of such people tend to experience this condition for over 6 months, even after the treatment is ended.
The most common symptoms include cognitive impairment, aches in muscles and joints, and fatigue.
In this study, the scientists followed 55 participants who were undergoing this treatment. They measured their immune markers and levels of fatigue before the participants started taking interferon-alpha.
This baseline information was used to monitor how the immune system of every individual reacted to the drug.
Of the 55 participants, 18 developed symptoms similar to that of CSF.
The findings of this study can be found in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
Alteration of Immune Response
The patients who started experiencing CFS like symptoms were found to have a greater immune response to the drug treatment.
Specifically speaking, this particular group was found to produce two folds the amounts of interleukin-10 and interleukin-6 as compared to other participants. Both types of interleukins (ILs) are significant messengers within the immune system.
Those who developed symptoms also reported higher levels of fatigue during the course of treatment. Note that none of them reported any such high levels before the initiation of the treatment.
During the investigations of the immune markers, the scientists examined that the levels of IL-10 were raised in such people even before the treatment with interferon-alpha began. These people, later on, developed exaggerated responses to the IL-10 and IL-6 during early phases of treatment.
The team suspects this as a sign that the immune system of such individuals was already “primed” to produce exaggerated responses.
Hence, the study concludes that people with a previous exaggeration of the immune responses may be at an increased risk of developing CFS.