Two interesting reports on the mystery of chronic fatigue syndrome. Could the cause of an outbreak in upstate New York be found by analyzing spinal fluid proteins?
The Wall Street Journal gave an update on the quest of Dr. David Bell to find the cause of an outbreak of the condition more than 15 years ago in the tiny farming community of Lyndonville, NY. One afternoon in 1985, eight children went sledding together. Within a few weeks they all got sick. And stayed sick, for weeks, months, years, never seeming to fully recover from swollen lymph nodes, muscle pain, fatigue, and other debilitating symptoms. Within two years, 214 people took sick with similar symptoms, 46 of them kids.
Bell kept a database of the patients and followed all the medical research to try to find the common cause. He sent blood samples to the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, which founded a retrovirus in the blood of two-thirds of 30 pediatric and adult patients diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. However, that theory that was shot down by the Centers for Disease Control, which couldn’t reproduce similar findings. In an all-too-common series of events, the thread was all but lost as researchers disagreed about protocols and definitions.
Then in 2009, the journal Science published a paper in 2009 announcing that in 67% of the samples of 101 chronic fatigue syndrome patients, researchers had found a retrovirus called XMRV, Bell tracked down 20 of his former patients and tested them. The blood of 70% of them tested positive for XMRV-related viruses.
Now, could a new technique to analyze spinal fluid proteins lead to more conclusive answers?
“Spinal fluid is like a liquid window to the brain,” says Steven E. Schutzer, MD, of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey – New Jersey Medical School. He and Richard D. Smith, Ph.D., of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, have published findings in the journal PLoS ONE (February 23, 2011) that although symptoms of Lyme disease and chronic fatigue are similar, unique proteins discovered in spinal fluid can distinguish those two groups from one another and also from people in normal health. More interesting, they confirmed that both conditions affect the central nervous system — previously a point of dispute– and that protein abnormalities in the central nervous system are causes and/or effects of both conditions. It will be interesting to see if these biomarkers can shed any light on the retrovirus theory.