Research examines environmental triggers altering gene function in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients

February 23, 2012

A University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) researcher is examining how environmental triggers might alter gene function in people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The research could lead to better insights into the disease and eventually to new treatments.

Patrick O. McGowan, professor in the department of and director of UTSC's Laboratory for Epigenetic , is looking at how environmentally triggered changes to might alter and stress response in ways that contribute to the disease.

McGowan's field of study is epigenetics – long-term changes in gene function that do not change the underlying DNA sequence. An epigenetic change wouldn't change a gene itself, but would influence whether, when and how the gene is turned off. Epigenetic changes can be caused by environmental triggers such as infections, toxins, stress, nutrition, and even the social environment.

McGowan will conduct the study into the epigenetics of CFS with a grant from the CFIDS Association of America. As part of the grant, he will have access to the SolveCFS Biobank, a collection of biological samples from CFS patients.

CFS, also known as Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS), is a complex and debilitating chronic illness that affects the brain and multiple body systems. Symptoms include incapacitating fatigue and problems with concentration and short-term memory. Millions of North Americans are thought to suffer from the disease.

McGowan will look specifically at the relationship between a system called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and immune function. The HPA axis is involved in the regulation of the , and has effects on immune function and inflammation through cellular signaling mechanisms involving the steroid glucocorticoid.

McGowan's hypothesis is that there is an epigenetic mechanism in CFS that disrupts glucocorticoid signaling in white blood cells called lymphocytes. By studying tissue samples from the SolveCFS Biobank he hopes to pinpoint the mechanism.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Experimental MERS vaccine shows promise in animal studies

July 28, 2015

A two-step regimen of experimental vaccines against Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) prompted immune responses in mice and rhesus macaques, report National Institutes of Health scientists who designed the vaccines. ...

Can social isolation fuel epidemics?

July 21, 2015

Conventional wisdom has it that the more people stay within their own social groups and avoid others, the less likely it is small disease outbreaks turn into full-blown epidemics. But the conventional wisdom is wrong, according ...

Lack of knowledge on animal disease leaves humans at risk

July 20, 2015

Researchers from the University of Sydney have painted the most detailed picture to date of major infectious diseases shared between wildlife and livestock, and found a huge gap in knowledge about diseases which could spread ...

IBD genetically similar in Europeans and non-Europeans

July 20, 2015

The first genetic study of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to include individuals from diverse populations has shown that the regions of the genome underlying the disease are consistent around the world. This study, conducted ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.