Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a debilitating disorder of unknown etiology, and diagnosis of the disease is largely based on clinical symptoms. We hypothesized that immunological disruption is the major driver of this disease and analyzed a large cohort of ME/CFS patient or control blood samples for differences in T cell subset frequencies and functions. We found that the ratio of CD4+ to CD8+ T cells and the proportion of CD8+ effector memory T cells were increased, whereas NK cells were reduced in ME/CFS patients younger than 50 years old compared to a healthy control group. Remarkably, major differences were observed in Th1, Th2, Th17 and mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) T cell subset functions across all ages of patients compared to healthy subjects. While CCR6+ Th17 cells in ME/CFS secreted less IL-17 compared to controls, their overall frequency was higher. Similarly, MAIT cells from patients secreted lower IFNγ, GranzymeA and IL-17 upon activation. Together, these findings suggest chronic stimulation of these T cell populations in ME/CFS patients. In contrast, the frequency of regulatory T cells (Tregs), which control excessive immune activation, was higher in ME/CFS patients. Finally, using a machine learning algorithm called random forest, we determined that the set of T cell parameters analyzed could identify more than 90% of the subjects in the ME/CFS cohort as patients (93% true positive rate or sensitivity). In conclusion, these multiple and major perturbations or dysfunctions in T cell subsets in ME/CFS patients suggest potential chronic infections or microbiome dysbiosis. These findings also have implications for development of ME/CFS specific immune biomarkers and reveal potential targets for novel therapeutic interventions.
BioRxiv - citation to come