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The Role of PBMCs in Chronic Fatigue

Feb 28, 2018 10:15:00 AM / by Stacy Matthews Branch, DVM, PhD

Woman Lying On the BedNew research using PBMCs has uncovered the role of cellular energy pathways in chronic fatigue syndrome.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, but recently referred to as systemic exercise intolerance disease, is a debilitating disease without a known cause. Historically, it has been thought of as a manifestation of a psychological condition. Some references still speculate that psychological stress may be a trigger, as well as viral infection or hormone imbalances. Whatever the cause, CFS is characterized by extreme fatigue that cannot be explained by an obvious medical condition. It is worse after physical or mental activity, yet it is not relieved by resting.

New research has uncovered the role of cellular energy pathways in CFS. Scientists conducted clinical case-control studies with people with or without CFS using peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). The objective was to determine the function of PBMC mitochondria and characterize the energy profiles of the study participant’s PBMCs. Experiments were conducted to measure PBMC cellular oxidative phosphorylation and glycolysis. Specifically, basal respiration, ATP production, proton leak, maximal respiration, reserve capacity, non-mitochondrial respiration, and coupling efficiency were measured in the PBMCs.

The most striking difference observed was the consistently lower maximal respiration in the PBMCs of patients with CFS. This shows that the cells in those with CFS have a lower capacity for the compensatory increase in respiration rate after physiological stress, leading to an inability to meet cellular energy demands. The lower ability to meet the cellular energy demands was evident under basal conditions and mitochondrial stress. Furthermore, in low glucose conditions, the control group had higher maximal respiration, but this was not the case in cells from those with CFS.

The results of this study showed clear differences in the bioenergetics profiles between PBMCs from patients with CFS and those from control patients. Although it is not yet clear if the PBMC bioenergetics observed cause or are a result of CFS, this important information provides valuable insight into what roles this may play in the disease process. The data provided from studying PBMCs can also be used to better understand the biological basis of CFS and possibly design better treatments for people who suffer from this disease.


McRae, M. (2018). People With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Are Exhausted at a Cellular Level, Study ShowsScienceAlert. Retrieved 14 February 2018, from

Topics: PBMCs

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