IMAGE DESCRIPTION: An image of a doctor taking spinal fluid during a medical procedure. The title reads: Medical Xpress: Decoding the mysteries of medically unexplained neurologic diseases. The ME Association Logo (bottom right).

Medical Xpress: Decoding the mysteries of medically unexplained neurologic diseases

New research may create some respite for sufferers of two medically unexplained fatigue-inducing conditions: myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and fibromyalgia (FM).

By Greg Bruno, Rutgers University


“Using mass spectrometry to analyze spinal fluid, the liquid that bathes the brain, we found that these two illnesses may fall along a common disease spectrum,” said Steven Schutzer, a professor of medicine at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and lead author of the study published in the Annals of Medicine.

“The results have implications for how the conditions can be investigated, while the technique may help advance treatment approaches with these diseases, and many others,” Schutzer said.

Based on older data, specialists have long debated whether ME/CFS and fibromyalgia, which share overlapping neurologic symptoms, are distinct or related central nervous system conditions.

By using advanced mass spectrometry to test the spinal fluid, researchers were able to conduct an unbiased assessment of samples' proteins. This enabled the team to identify and quantify proteins that may be of diagnostic and therapeutic importance, a technique that is applicable to the study of other diseases

Additional research is warranted to validate the findings, and a particular focus should be put on studying proteins in patients presenting with only fibromyalgia, the researchers noted. But Schutzer said he is hopeful the new method used, combined with more data, will help in the search for effective therapies for a host of neurologic conditions.

MEA Comment

Research that involves the spinal fluid can obviously be very helpful in diagnosing and understanding the cause of neurological diseases.

Unfortunately, there has been very little research involving spinal fluid when it comes to ME/CFS – partly because obtaining spinal fluid has to be done in hospital and can be an unpleasant invasive procedure.

This results presented here indicate that there are several protein based components of spinal fluid that are common to both ME/CFS and fibromyalgia.

As ME/CFS and fibromyalgia have a lot of symptoms in common this is not surprising and it may be that these changes are related to a common symptom such as pain.

I haven't yet had time to read the full paper. However, from the information in this article, it does not look as though they have looked at other conditions involving pain, fatigue etc to see if these changes are also present there.

So it would be very premature to conclude that these findings could be used as diagnostic biomarkers for ME/CFS and fibromyalgia or provide the basis for new drug treatments.

The MEA Ramsay Research Fund is very keen to fund high quality research that involves the brain and nervous system – which is why we have recently formed a collaboration with the Manchester Brain Bank to carry out post-mortem research.

We would be very happy to consider research applications relating to spinal fluid investigation.

Dr Charles Shepherd,
Trustee and
Hon. Medical Adviser
to the ME Association.
Member of the 2018-2021 NICE Guideline Committee.
Member of the 2002 Independent Working Group on ME/CFS.

Dr Charles Shepherd
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