Chronic fatigue syndrome and the immune system: Where are we now?

Neurophysiol Clin. 2017 Apr;47(2):131-138. doi: 10.1016/j.neucli.2017.02.002. Epub 2017 Apr 12.


Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is characterised by multiple symptoms including fatigue, headaches and cognitive impairment, which have a significantly adverse effect on the normal functioning and well-being of the individual. These symptoms are often triggered or worsened following physical or mental exertion. ME/CFS has long been thought of as having a significant immunological component, but reports describing changes in immune function are often inconsistent between study groups. Although the wide range of physical, neurocognitive and autonomic symptoms reported have seriously hampered attempts to understand pathophysiological pathways, investment in biomedical research in ME/CFS is finally increasing with a number of novel and promising investigations being published. The onset of ME/CFS may often be linked to (viral) infections which would be consistent with a variety of alterations in natural killer (NK) cell function as described by a number of different groups. Consistency in cytokine data has been lacking so far, although recently more sophisticated approaches have led to more robust data from large patient cohorts. New hope has also been given to sufferers with the possibility that therapies that deplete B cells can result in clinical improvement. To understand the pathogenic mechanism in this complex condition, it is important to consider repeated analysis in different cohorts. In this review, we will discuss the potential of different components of the immune system to be involved in the pathogenesis of ME/CFS.

Keywords: B cells; Biomedical research; Cellules B; Cellules NK; Cytokines; EM/SFC; Immune system; ME/CFS; NK cells; Recherche biomédicale; Système immunitaire.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autoantibodies / immunology*
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Cytokines / immunology*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / immunology*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / therapy
  • Humans
  • Immune System / immunology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology


  • Autoantibodies
  • Cytokines