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A comparison of sex-specific immune signatures in Gulf War illness and chronic fatigue syndrome

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By Anne Liese Smylie et al. • • July 5, 2013

Note: A provisional PDF of the complete article can be read here.

By Anne Liese Smylie et al.


Background: Though potentially linked to the basic physiology of stress response we still have no clear understanding of Gulf War Illness (GWI), a debilitating condition presenting complex immune, endocrine and neurological symptoms. Here we compared male (n = 20) and female (n = 10) veterans with GWI separately against their healthy counterparts (n = 21 male, n = 9 female) as well as subjects with chronic fatigue syndrome/ myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) (n = 12 male, n = 10 female).

Methods: Subjects were assessed using a Graded eXercise Test (GXT) with blood drawn prior to exercise, at peak effort (VO2 max) and 4-hours post exercise. Using chemiluminescent imaging we measured the concentrations of IL-1a, 1b, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12 (p70), 13, 15, 17 and 23, IFNgamma, TNFalpha and TNFbeta in plasma samples from each phase of exercise. Linear classification models were constructed using stepwise variable selection to identify cytokine co-expression patterns characteristic of each subject group.

Results: Classification accuracies in excess of 80% were obtained using between 2 and 5 cytokine markers. Common to both GWI and CFS, IL-10 and IL-23 expression contributed in an illness and time-dependent manner, accompanied in male subjects by NK and Th1 markers IL-12, IL-15, IL-2 and IFNgamma. In female GWI and CFS subjects IL-10 was again identified as a delineator but this time in the context of IL-17 and Th2 markers IL-4 and IL-5. Exercise response also differed between sexes: male GWI subjects presented characteristic cytokine signatures at rest but not at peak effort whereas the opposite was true for female subjects.

Conclusions: Though individual markers varied, results collectively supported involvement of the IL-23/Th17/IL-17 axis in the delineation of GWI and CFS in a sex-specific way.

Source: BMC Immunology 2013, 14:29 doi:10.1186/1471-2172-14-29. Anne Liese Smylie, Gordon Broderick, Henrique Fernandes, Shirin Razdan, Zachary Barnes, Fanny Collado, Connie Sol, Mary Ann Fletcher and Nancy Klimas

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