Longitudinal analysis of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokine production in severely fatigued adolescents

Journal: Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2007 May 31; [E-publication ahead of print]

Authors and affiliations: Ter Wolbeek M, van Doornen LJ, Kavelaars A, van de Putte EM, Schedlowski M, Heijnen CJ. Laboratory of Psychoneuroimmunology, University Medical Center Utrecht; Department of Health Psychology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

PMID: 17544255

In the adolescent population, fatigue is associated with somatic complaints, unrefreshing sleep, cognitive disturbances and symptoms of depression and anxiety. This pattern of symptoms resembles the one described in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

Since immunological alterations have been reported in CFS patients, we wondered whether also severely fatigued girls from a healthy population would show comparable alterations in psychological and immunological parameters. We tested this hypothesis in a longitudinal design, allowing a reliable assessment of the participants' characteristic immune status.

Groups of severely fatigued (N=67) and non-fatigued (N=61) participants were selected.

Severely fatigued girls reported more depressive symptoms, anxiety, reduced sleep quality, and somatic and CFS-related symptoms than non-fatigued participants across three measurements during one year (T1: spring, T2: autumn, T3: spring).

In contrast, no group differences in mitogen-induced cytokine production or T-cell proliferation in vitro or in leukocyte subset counts were observed. Although absolute cytokine production and cell counts were affected by seasonal variation, the within-subject values, relatively to the rest of the participants, were fairly stable. Data from a small group of CFS patients (N=11) showed similarities in self-reported complaints between CFS patients and fatigued participants.

Interestingly, CFS patients showed a distinct immune profile when compared to the severely fatigued or non-fatigued participants – i.e. increased levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines (IL-10, decreased IFN-gamma/IL-10 ratio) and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-6, TNF-alpha) over all three time points analyzed. These results show that, although overlap in symptomatology between the general population and patients with CFS was observed, only CFS patients show a skewing of the cytokine balance towards an anti-inflammatory profile.

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