Chronic fatigue syndrome is a disorder characterised by prolonged fatigue and debility and is mostly associated with post-infection sequelae although ongoing infection is unproven.
Immunological aberration is likely and this may prove to be associated with an expanding group of vasoactive neuropeptides in the context of molecular mimicry and inappropriate immunological memory.
Vasoactive neuropeptides including vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) and pituitary adenylate activating polypeptide (PACAP) belong to the secretin/glucagon superfamily and act as hormones, neurotransmitters, immune modulators and neurotrophes. They are readily catalysed to smaller peptide fragments by antibody hydrolysis. They and their binding sites are immunogenic and are known to be associated with a range of autoimmune conditions.
Vasoactive neuropeptides are widely distributed in the body particularly in the central, autonomic and peripheral nervous systems and have been identified in the gut, adrenal gland, reproductive organs, vasculature, blood cells and other tissues. They have a vital role in maintaining vascular flow in organs, and in thermoregulation, memory and concentration. They are co-transmitters for acetylcholine, nitric oxide, endogenous opioids and insulin, are potent immune regulators with primarily anti-inflammatory activity, and have a significant role in protection of the nervous system to toxic assault, promotion of neural development and the maintenance of homeostasis.
This paper describes a biologically plausible mechanism for the development of CFS based on loss of immunological tolerance to the vasoactive neuropeptides following infection, significant physical exercise or de novo. It is proposed that release of these substances is accompanied by a loss of tolerance either to them or their receptor binding sites in CFS. Such an occurrence would have predictably serious consequences resulting from compromised function of the key roles these substances perform.
All documented symptoms of CFS are explained by vasoactive neuropeptide compromise, namely fatigue and nervous system dysfunction through impaired acetylcholine activity, myalgia through nitric oxide and endogenous opioid dysfunction, chemical sensitivity through peroxynitrite and adenosine dysfunction, and immunological disturbance through changes in immune modulation.
Perverse immunological memory established against these substances or their receptors may be the reason for the protracted nature of this condition. The novel status of these substances together with their extremely small concentrations in blood and tissues means that clinical research into them is still in its infancy.
A biologically plausible theory of CFS causation associated with vasoactive neuropeptide dysfunction would promote a coherent and systematic approach to research into this and other possibly associated disabling conditions.
Is chronic fatigue syndrome an autoimmune disorder of endogenous neuropeptides, exogenous infection and molecular mimicry? by DR Staines in Med Hypotheses; 62(5): 646-52, 2004.