Oxf Open Immunol 4 (1) iqad003 [2023-04-17; online 2023-04-17]
Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) previously also known as chronic fatigue syndrome is a heterogeneous, debilitating syndrome of unknown etiology responsible for long-lasting disability in millions of patients worldwide. The most well-known symptom of ME is post-exertional malaise, but many patients also experience autonomic dysregulation, cranial nerve dysfunction and signs of immune system activation. Many patients also report a sudden onset of disease following an infection. The brainstem is a suspected focal point in ME pathogenesis and patients with structural impairment to the brainstem often show ME-like symptoms. The brainstem is also where the vagus nerve originates, a critical neuro-immune interface and mediator of the inflammatory reflex which regulate systemic inflammation. Here, we report the results of a randomized, placebo-controlled trial using intranasal mechanical stimulation targeting nerve endings in the nasal cavity, likely from the trigeminal nerve, possibly activating additional centers in the brainstem of ME patients and correlating with a ∼30% reduction in overall symptom scores after 8 weeks of treatment. By performing longitudinal, systems-level monitoring of the blood immune system in these patients, we uncover signs of chronic immune activation in ME, as well as immunological correlates of improvement that center around gut-homing immune cells and reduced inflammation. The mechanisms of symptom relief remain to be determined, but transcriptional analyses suggest an upregulation of disease tolerance mechanisms. We believe that these results are suggestive of ME as a condition explained by a maladaptive disease tolerance response following infection.