Examining the association between the gastrointestinal microbiota and Gulf War illness: A prospective cohort study

PLoS One. 2022 Jul 28;17(7):e0268479. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0268479. eCollection 2022.


Gulf War Illness (GWI) affects 25-35% of the 1991 Gulf War Veteran (GWV) population. Patients with GWI experience pain, fatigue, cognitive impairments, gastrointestinal dysfunction, skin disorders, and respiratory issues. In longitudinal studies, many patients with GWI have shown little to no improvement in symptoms since diagnosis. The gut microbiome and diet play an important role in human health and disease, and preliminary studies suggest it may play a role in GWI. To examine the relationship between the gut microbiota, diet, and GWI, we conducted an eight-week prospective cohort study collecting stool samples, medications, health history, and dietary data. Sixty-nine participants were enrolled into the study, 36 of which met the case definition for GWI. The gut microbiota of participants, determined by 16S rRNA sequencing of stool samples, was stable over the duration of the study and showed no within person (alpha diversity) differences. Between group analyses (beta diversity) identified statistically significant different between those with and without GWI. Several taxonomic lineages were identified as differentially abundant between those with and without GWI (n = 9) including a greater abundance of Lachnospiraceae and Ruminococcaceae in those without GWI. Additionally, there were taxonomic differences between those with high and low healthy eating index (HEI) scores including a greater abundance of Ruminococcaceae in those with higher HEI scores. This longitudinal cohort study of GWVs found that participants with GWI had significantly different microbiomes from those without GWI. Further studies are needed to determine the role these differences may play in the development and treatment of GWI.

MeSH terms

  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome* / genetics
  • Gulf War
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome* / diagnosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Veterans*


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S

Grant support

This work was supported by Pilot Project Award #CX-001574 from the United States (U.S.) Department of Veterans Affairs Clinical Science Research and Development Service (NS, GS, RG, DBC, DR). The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not represent the position of the US Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States government.