Abstract: Do vasoactive neuropeptide autoimmune disorders explain pyridostigmine’s association with Gulf War syndrome?

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Med Hypotheses. 2005;65(3):591-4.

Staines D.

Gold Coast Public Health Unit, 10-12 Young Street, Southport 4215, Queensland, Australia.

Gulf War syndrome (GWS) is a perplexing multi-symptom condition comprising a constellation of signs and symptoms consistently described in the literature. These include muscle fatigue and tiredness, malaise, myalgia, impaired cognition, ataxia, diarrhoea, bladder dysfunction, sweating disturbances, headaches, fever, arthralgia, skin rashes, and gastrointestinal and sleep disturbances. Excessive chemical sensitivity and odour intolerance is reported.

Epidemiological analysis suggests association with pyridostigmine bromide (PB) use as nerve gas prophylaxis, insect repellent, certain vaccination regimes, a variety of possible chemical exposures and physical and psychological stress. Pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP), calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) and vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) are potent vasoactive (vasodilatory) neuropeptides (VNs) having pleiotropic functions as immunomodulators, neuroregulators and hormones. VNs also have neurotrophic and anti-apoptotic roles. VNs act on G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) to activate adenylate cyclase, an important step in cyclic AMP metabolism.

Autoimmune dysfunction of these VNs or their receptors is postulated to give rise to fatigue-related conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Complex mechanisms involving heat shock proteins (hsps) and cytosine-guanine dinucleotide (CpG) DNA fragments may also be associated with autoimmunity to VNs or their GPCRs in contributing to fatigue-related conditions. Dysfunction of certain VNs may be the missing link in explaining the nebulous nexus between PB and GWS.

This paper explores a possible link between exposures to PB and other chemical, physical and psychological stressors in producing a fatigue-related illness possibly related to autoimmune dysfunction of certain VNs. Treatment options involving restoration of VN function are considered in the context of analogues with other neurotransmitter fatigue-related conditions such as myasthenia gravis (MG).

While evidence associating these conditions is thin, vasoactive neuropeptide neurotransmitters of the VIP/PACAP family have acetylcholine co-transmission functions via specific GPCRs. Autoimmune reactions to these receptors may have parallels with muscarinic (e.g., Sjogren’s syndrome) and nicotinic (e.g., MG) acetylcholine neurotransmission.

Hence theoretically, treatment options such as thymectomy, corticosteroids, plasma exchange, anti-idiotype antibodies and receptor genomic expression reactivation/suppression may be considered. Paradoxically pyridostigmine may prove to have a role in therapy although VN treatment/replacement may be associated with tachyphylaxis.

PMID: 16004938 [PubMed – in process]

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