Genetic basis suggested for ME/CFS

In a recent article in the Daily Mail Dr Martin Scurr  admitted that for many years he had been sceptical about ME/CFS, concurring with the common medical opinion that it was merely a form of depressive illness.

‘Both involve the major symptom of fatigue - a gross tiredness unlike any other, such is its overwhelming severity. Both are associated with sleep disturbance, impairment of memory and concentration, emotional symptoms - indeed, there are many in the medical profession who have long considered that those who believe they have ME/CFS have a form of depression and are in denial.’

However, as he noted, there is one major difference: those with ME/CFS have a flare of their malaise lasting at least 24 hours after physical exertion, whereas people with depression - if they can manage exercise - tend to be briefly a bit better.

‘At the recent 5th World Conference on ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome)’ he continued, ‘a number of plausible ideas were advanced for the condition, including one from Professor Brigitte Huber, an immunologist from Boston. She explained that 8 per cent of all the DNANA (Dehydro-2-Deoxy-N-Acetyl-Neuraminic Acid) in our bodies is basically a form of infection - it's become incorporated into the genetic code of our cells.

This infection 'gene' gets switched on whenever you catch a common viral illness - such as glandular fever or herpes simplex (the type that gives you cold sores). T his triggers the immune system to pour out vast quantities of chemicals which cause widespread effects such as muscle pain and exhaustion.
In most patients, this reaction stops after a week or two as they recover - the immune system puts the infection gene back to bed.

But in a small number of people this doesn't happen, so the immune cells continue to be activated, causing grief, and the illness becomes ME/CFS.’

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First Published June 2010

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