Health Rising summarizes Nancy Klimas' latest ME/CFS study


  • It appears that problems with blood flows, oxygen utilization, and energy production combine together to make exercise pretty miserable in ME/CFS. The latest study from Nancy Klimas’s Institute for Neuroimmune Medicine makes it clear, though, we can’t keep the immune system out of the mix. This is, after all, an all-purpose disease.
  • This study assessed how the genes of immune cells (T, B, NK, dendritic, monocytes) in people with ME/CFS and healthy controls expressed themselves in response to exercise.
  • The genes of the healthy controls expressed themselves well. Over a hundred genes leapt into action during the exercise period. The immune cells of the ME/CFS patients, on the other hand, laid low and were basically MIA during the exercise period. In fact, not one gene met the criteria for activation.
  • This strange non-response or very limited response to a pretty darn big stressor like intense exercise has shown up in metabolic and protein studies in ME/CFS. For whatever reason (cellular exhaustion?), major systems in ME/CFS are simply not responding to exercise.
  • In the case of the immune cells this study was examining the major “downer” in the study was the inability of our old “friend” natural killer cells (NK cells) to show up. Problems with NK cells showed up early in ME/CFS and they’ve been consistently found.
  • In a rather remarkable coincidence (coincidence?), NK cells turn out to be the most exercise-responsive immune cell. During exercise NK cells become activated, and jump into the bloodstream where their levels increased 2-5xs. Unless you have ME/CFS that is. They didn’t “jump” nor did they appear to be become activated.
  • These cells apparently troll the bloodstream because exercise inevitably produces some damage as the free radicals leak out of the mitochondria. Studies suggest that in ME/CFS, exercise produces a lot of damage as it produces more free radicals than usual and the antioxidants that keep the free radicals in check are low.
  • Because exercise appears to produce leaky gut in ME/CFS as well, NK cells would be needed to combat the bacteria that are showing up in the bloodstream.
  • In the after-exercise recovery period, perhaps struggling to clean up the damage, it was the ME/CFS patients’ immune cells whose gene expression exploded as about 50 percent more of their genes became activated. indeed, genes associated with the cellular response to stress and regulation of cellular response to stress that were amongst the most upregulated.
  • Plus 4 hours after exercise it appeared that the ME/CFS patient’s immune cells – in contrast to the healthy controls immune cells – were still trying to tamp down inflammation.
  • The authors concluded that “after significant exertion, ME/CFS patients are unable to mount the proper defenses to combat cellular stress, leaving their immune cells vulnerable to apoptosis (cell death)”.
  • Finally, because herpesviruses can infect natural killer cells, it’s possible that herpesvirus reactivation may play a role in all this.