[Editor’s comment: While nicely explored in this article, the idea that the limbic system is the main driver behind ME/CFS symptoms is hardly new. Jay Goldstein in his 286-page book, Chronic Fatigue Syndromes: The Limbic Hypothesis (June 1993), examines the important role of the limbic system, and in particular the hypothalamus, in ME/CFS pathophysiology. The authors of this article fail to give him a mention.]
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A neuroinflammatory paradigm is presented to help explain the pathophysiology of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). The hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) is responsible for absorbing and processing multiple, incoming and convergent ‘stress’ signals, and if this cluster of neurons were affected (by neuroinflammation), the ongoing hypersensitivity of ME/CFS patients to a wide range of ‘stressors’ could be explained. Neuroinflammation that was chronic and fluctuating, as ‘inflammatory-marker’ studies support, could reflect a dynamic change in the hypothalamic PVN’s threshold for managing incoming ‘stress’ signals.
This may not only be a mechanism underpinning the characteristic feature of ME/CFS, post-exertional malaise, and its associated debilitating relapses, but could also be responsible for mediating the long-term perpetuation of the disease. Triggers (sustained physiological ‘stressors’) of ME/CFS, such as a particular viral infection, toxin exposure, or a traumatic event, could also target the hypothalamic PVN, a potentially vulnerable site in the brains of ME/CFS susceptible people, and disruption of its complex neural circuitry could account for the onset of ME/CFS. In common with the different ‘endogenous factors’ identified in the early ‘neuroinflammatory’ stages of the ‘neurodegenerative’ diseases, an as yet, unidentified factor within the brains and central nervous system (CNS) of ME/CFS patients might induce both an initial and then sustained ‘neuroinflammatory’ response by its ‘innate immune system’.
Positron emission tomography/magnetic resonance imaging has reinforced evidence of glial cell activation centred on the brain’s limbic system of ME/CFS patients. Neuroinflammation causing dysfunction of the limbic system and its hypothalamus together with a consequently disrupted autonomic nervous system could account for the diverse range of symptoms in ME/CFS relating, in particular to fatigue, mood, cognitive function, sleep, thermostatic control, gastrointestinal disturbance, and hypotension.
Source: Angus Mackay, Warren P Tate. A compromised paraventricular nucleus within a dysfunctional hypothalamus: A novel neuroinflammatory paradigm for ME/CFS. International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology. First Published December 6, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1177/2058738418812342 (Full article)