[Editor’s comment: Conspicuously absent from the reference section in this paper is the pioneering work of L. O. Simpson. In 1989 Dr. Leslie O. Simpson, a New Zealand pathologist, discovered that the blood of people with ME/CFS tends to have a higher proportion of cup-shaped red blood cells. (Simpson, L.O. “Nondiscocyte Erythrocytes in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.” New Zealand Medical Journal 2(864):126-127,1989.) Cup-shaped cells are more difficult to squeeze through small capillaries than disc-shaped cells, making it harder for blood to oxygenate capillary-dependent tissues. In further investigations, Dr. Simpson also observed similar changes in red blood cell morphology in other diseases. He noted that red blood cell shape can change from minute to minute. A summary of Dr. Simpson’s work on red blood cell morphology in ME/CFS can be found HERE.]
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BACKGROUND: Myalgic encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) is a poorly understood disease. Amongst others symptoms, the disease is associated with profound fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, sleep abnormalities, and other symptoms that are made worse by physical or mental exertion. While the etiology of the disease is still debated, evidence suggests oxidative damage to immune and hematological systems as one of the pathophysiological mechanisms of the disease. Since red blood cells (RBCs) are well-known scavengers of oxidative stress, and are critical in microvascular perfusion and tissue oxygenation, we hypothesized that RBC deformability is adversely affected in ME/CFS.
METHODS: We used a custom microfluidic platform and high-speed microscopy to assess the difference in deformability of RBCs obtained from ME/CFS patients and age-matched healthy controls.
RESULTS AND CONCLUSION: We observed from various measures of deformability that the RBCs isolated from ME/CFS patients were significantly stiffer than those from healthy controls. Our observations suggest that RBC transport through microcapillaries may explain, at least in part, the ME/CFS phenotype, and promises to be a novel first-pass diagnostic test.
Source: Saha KA, Schmidt RB, Wilhelmy J, Nguyen V, Abugherir A, Do KJ, Nemat-Gorgani M, Davis WR, Ramasubramanian KA. Red blood cell deformability is diminished in patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Clin Hemorheol Microcirc. 2018 Dec 28. doi: 10.3233/CH-180469. [Epub ahead of print] (Full article)