The Gut Microbiome in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Journal Paper/Review - Jan 3, 2022


König R, Albrich W, Kahlert C, Bahr L, Löber U, Vernazza P, Scheibenbogen C, Forslund S. The Gut Microbiome in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Front Immunol 2022; 12:628741.
Journal Paper/Review (English)
Front Immunol 2022; 12
Publication Date
Jan 3, 2022
Issn Print
Issn Electronic
Brief description/objective

Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a neglected, debilitating multi-systemic disease without diagnostic marker or therapy. Despite evidence for neurological, immunological, infectious, muscular and endocrine pathophysiological abnormalities, the etiology and a clear pathophysiology remains unclear. The gut microbiome gained much attention in the last decade with manifold implications in health and disease. Here we review the current state of knowledge on the interplay between ME/CFS and the microbiome, to identify potential diagnostic or interventional approaches, and propose areas where further research is needed. We iteratively selected and elaborated on key theories about a correlation between microbiome state and ME/CFS pathology, developing further hypotheses. Based on the literature we hypothesize that antibiotic use throughout life favours an intestinal microbiota composition which might be a risk factor for ME/CFS. Main proposed pathomechanisms include gut dysbiosis, altered gut-brain axis activity, increased gut permeability with concomitant bacterial translocation and reduced levels of short-chain-fatty acids, D-lactic acidosis, an abnormal tryptophan metabolism and low activity of the kynurenine pathway. We review options for microbiome manipulation in ME/CFS patients including probiotic and dietary interventions as well as fecal microbiota transplantations. Beyond increasing gut permeability and bacterial translocation, specific dysbiosis may modify fermentation products, affecting peripheral mitochondria. Considering the gut-brain axis we strongly suspect that the microbiome may contribute to neurocognitive impairments of ME/CFS patients. Further larger studies are needed, above all to clarify whether D-lactic acidosis and early-life antibiotic use may be part of ME/CFS etiology and what role changes in the tryptophan metabolism might play. An association between the gut microbiome and the disease ME/CFS is plausible. As causality remains unclear, we recommend longitudinal studies. Activity levels, bedridden hours and disease progression should be compared to antibiotic exposure, drug intakes and alterations in the composition of the microbiota. The therapeutic potential of fecal microbiota transfer and of targeted dietary interventions should be systematically evaluated.