Considerable time has been spent by scientists in analyzing the cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. The puzzle, however, persisted without any clue whether it was a psychological or physical illness.
There are one million Americans affected by this disease. Complete exhaustion makes people afflicted with CFS incapacitated to work or study.
The underlying cause has been eluding discovery with many dismissing it as not a "real disease."
However, a new breakthrough is in sight, thanks to Australian scientists. For the first time, the cause of CFS has been traced to a faulty cell receptor in the immune cells.
Problem Of Cell Receptor
The cell receptor dysfunction was found by researchers from Griffith University who identified patients with CFS/ME as having single nucleotide polymorphisms in the genetic code of some cell receptors.
The CFS condition usually manifests with the following symptoms
- Extreme exhaustion
- Loss of memory
- Lack of concentration
- Sore throat
- Muscle pain
- Disturbed sleep
"This discovery is great news for all people living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and the related Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), as it confirms what people with these conditions have long known - that it is a 'real' illness - not a psychological issue," said Leeanne Enoch, the Science Minister of Queensland.
The study has been published in Clinical Experimental Immunology.
The research conducted by scientists at the Griffith University's National Centre for Neuroimmunology and Emerging Diseases focused on the abnormalities in the immune cell receptors.
"We have discovered and reported for the first time abnormalities of a certain receptor in immune cells of the body and hence it's likely to be in every cell in the body", NCNED Co-Director, Professor Don Staines, said.
They zeroed in on the single nucleotide polymorphisms in the genetic code of affected patients. The cell receptor TRPM3 plays a vital role in moving calcium from outside the cell to the system in balancing gene expression and production of proteins. A defect in the receptor stems from the change in gene transcription.
It now follows that CFS condition blocks transit of calcium causing pain in the brain, spinal cord, stomach, and the pancreas.
Role Of Gut Bacteria
Meanwhile, the flu-like CFS condition with heavy fatigue that limits a person's ability to carry out daily life has brought focus on the role of gut bacteria in enhancing the disease.
"The key defining feature is actually what's called post-exertional malaise. This involves a flu-like reaction following any form of exertion, trauma or activity that exacerbates stress," noted Chris Armstrong, a researcher at the University of Melbourne's Department of Biochemistry.
In the research on CFS, attention is also turning to gut health revealing what causes this condition.
Armstrong and other researchers at Melbourne University studied the products of metabolism and gut microbiota in the patients' feces, blood, and urine.
A microbial difference was spotted with the gut bacteria showing microbiome abnormality. A study had suggested changes in the composition of the gut bacteria could be adding pressure on the process of metabolism that converts food into energy.
Energy production involves converting sugars into amino acids.
"Our food gets broken down by bacteria and these things called short chain fatty acids ... Our study has shown an increase of bacteria that are better at fermenting amino acids to these acids," Armstrong said. The assumption is that the increase in bacteria is causing the abnormal conditions in metabolism.