Background: Preliminary evidence suggests that the enteric microbiota may play a role in the expression of neurological symptoms in myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). Overlapping symptoms with the acute presentation of D-lactic acidosis has prompted the use of antibiotic treatment to target the overgrowth of species within the Streptococcus genus found in commensal enteric microbiota as a possible treatment for neurological symptoms in ME/CFS.
Methods: An open-label, repeated measures design was used to examine treatment efficacy and enable sex comparisons. Participants included 44 adult ME/CFS patients (27 females) from one specialist medical clinic with Streptococcus viable counts above 3.00 × 105 cfu/g (wet weight of faeces) and with a count greater than 5% of the total count of aerobic microorganisms. The 4-week treatment protocol included alternate weeks of Erythromycin (400 mg of erythromycin as ethyl succinate salt) twice daily and probiotic (D-lactate free multistrain probiotic, 5 × 1010 cfu twice daily). 2 × 2 repeated measures ANOVAs were used to assess sex-time interactions and effects across pre- and post-intervention for microbial, lactate and clinical outcomes. Ancillary non-parametric correlations were conducted to examine interactions between change in microbiota and clinical outcomes.
Results: Large treatment effects were observed for the intention-to-treat sample with a reduction in Streptococcus viable count and improvement on several clinical outcomes including total symptoms, some sleep (less awakenings, greater efficiency and quality) and cognitive symptoms (attention, processing speed, cognitive flexibility, story memory and verbal fluency). Mood, fatigue and urine D:L lactate ratio remained similar across time. Ancillary results infer that shifts in microbiota were associated with more of the variance in clinical changes for males compared with females.
Conclusions: Results support the notion that specific microorganisms interact with some ME/CFS symptoms and offer promise for the therapeutic potential of targeting gut dysbiosis in this population. Streptococcus spp. are not the primary or sole producers of D-lactate. Further investigation of lactate concentrations are needed to elucidate any role of D-lactate in this population. Concurrent microbial shifts that may be associated with clinical improvement (i.e., increased Bacteroides and Bifidobacterium or decreased Clostridium in males) invite enquiry into alternative strategies for individualised treatment. Trial Registration Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trial Registry (ACTRN12614001077651) 9th October 2014. https://www.anzctr.org.au/Trial/Registration/TrialReview.aspx?id=366933&isReview=true.
Keywords: Antibiotic; Chronic fatigue syndrome; Clinical outcomes; Gut dysbiosis; Microbiota-gut-brain; Myalgic encephalomyelitis; Neuropsychological symptoms; Open-label pilot; Probiotic; Sex comparisons; Streptococcus; Treatment.