Biological Underpinnings of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Begin to Emerge

Gut bacteria and altered metabolic pathways are suspects in mysterious disease. Lipkin has identified a distinct set of intestinal bacteria in 21 people with chronic fatigue syndrome who also had irritable bowel syndrome - conditions that often occur together. His study, accepted for publication in the journal Microbiome, also links both diseases to changes in body processes influenced by gut microbes, such as the production of vitamin B6 (D. Nagy-Szakal et al. Microbiome; in the press). And a study by another team, published in December 2016, finds problems with the function of an enzyme that is crucial for the process by which cells create energy (Ø. Fluge et al. JCI Insight 1, e89376; 2016).

Rather than seeing the thicket of metabolic, microbial and immunological data as adding to the confusion surrounding chronic fatigue, researchers are studying how the body’s systems affect each other. The current consensus is that a variety of initial triggers might converge to alter similar metabolic pathways, which ultimately leads to life-changing fatigue.

Davis says that such metabolic disruptions could impair cells’ ability to generate energy in response to stress, explaining the findings from his nanofabricated cube. First, however, he wants to ensure that his results are consistent, by comparing more data from people with chronic fatigue and those with and without other diseases.

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