Five molecules for future international studies on CFS have been identified


  • IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute researchers compared samples from patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and healthy people in order to discover new diagnostic tools. Currently, the detection of the disease is only based on the clinical symptoms.
  • Scientists have also identified molecules in the immune system cells of the CFS patients that might be used in studies with cryopreserved samples. That will be useful for future international multicenter studies. The results were presented on June 5, at the Casa del Mar in Barcelona.
  • The study "Characterization of T-regulatory cells in patients with ME / CFS" was funded through a crowdfunding campaign on Verkami, driven by the Asociación de Sanitarios al Servicio de la Encefalomielitis Miálgica, ASSSEM. 29,000 euros were collected. The project involved the collaboration of the Chronic Fatigue unit of the Hospital Univerisitari Vall d’Hebron.


Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, is a complex disease that affects the immune, neurological, cardiovascular and endocrine systems. It causes constant fatigue that can not be attributed to a recent effort and that is not eliminated after resting, a substantial loss of concentration, muscle and joint pain, multiple chemical sensitivities and a sense of permanent flu state. It may also cause hypersensitivity to light, emotional stress and physical activity. Therefore, CFS patients have to reduce their daily activities significantly.


CFS patients have an altered immune system: inflammation, autoimmune phenomena, recurrent infections... “Something is wrong with their immune system, but we do not know exactly what", explains Julià Blanco, researcher of the Institut d' Investigació de Ciències de la Salut Germans Trias i Pujol at IrsiCaixa, coordinator of the study and head of the Cell Virology and Immunity group. It is estimated that CFS affects 1 of every 1,000 people in Spain, although it is difficult to estimate due to the diagnostic problems of the disease. "It causes symptoms that are difficult to quantify, so the diagnostic criteria might change widely between different cities", says Blanco. Now, his team has identified five molecules that might be used in international studies to improve the detection of the disease.


Blanco’s team already identified, in 2013, a combination of 8 immunological markers associated with CFS. As a result, the Asociación de Sanitarios al Servicio de la Encefalomielitis Miálgica, ASSSEM, promoted a crowdfunding campaign on Verkami, in March 2014, to fund the continuation of that study. The objectives of the project, for which 29,000 euros were collected, were defining new diagnostic tools, better understanding CFS causes and identifying potential therapeutic targets. The results were presented at the Biomedical Research into ME Colloquium 5, 26 and 27 May in London.


Valid frozen samples

In their previous study, carried out with fresh samples from 22 patients and published in the Journal of Translational Medicine, IrsiCaixa scientists had found that CFS patients had alterations in T-regulatory and NK immune system cells, and identified 8 markers that might aid to diagnosis. Now, for the study "Characterization of regulatory T-cells in patients with ME / CFS", researchers have worked with cryopreserved samples of 18 CFS patients and 18 healthy people. Comparing the characteristics of the immune system in both cases, scientists confirmed that at least 5 of the 8 molecules already identified might be measured in frozen cells. Some of these molecules are associated to the function of the T-regulatory cells.


The immune system cells are classified into different interconnected groups: what happens in one of them impacts other groups. T-regulatory cells are a small but very important group because they control the activity of T cells, which are the most abundant and coordinate the immune response.


Future projects

The results will be especially useful for future international studies to validate this data. Indeed, IrsiCaixa currently prepares an investigation promoted by the Fundación de Afectados y Afectadas de Fibromialgia y Síndrome de Fatiga Crónica, Fundación FF. In collaboration with the Chronic Fatigue unit of the Hospital Universitari Vall d'Hebron, the Biobank of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the Biobank of the Oslo University Hospital, researchers will analyze 180 frozen samples to generate a common database which will be used in future studies and will also serve to check whether there are diagnostic differences between different centers and countries, which could have clinical implications. In addition, they will study the association between the immune dysfunction and the severity of the disease, and possible changes in the B cells of the CFS patients.