More than a quarter of the nearly 700,000 US veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s have been diagnosed with Gulf War Illness. And up to 2.5 million Americans are believed to be affected by chronic fatigue syndrome. Despite symptoms ranging from pain to cognitive dysfunction to exhaustion after exercise, both disorders were long believed to be psychological in nature, according to a press release. But in a study published Friday in Scientific Reports, researchers say they've found unique molecular patterns in the brain that hint at a physical cause for the brain disorders. And that's a first step toward figuring out a way to both diagnose and treat Gulf War Illness and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Researchers observed subjects 24 hours after riding a stationary bike for 25 minutes. They found different changes in the levels of miRNAs in the brain between chronic fatigue syndrome patients, two subsets of Gulf War Illness sufferers, and a control group. MiRNAs are responsible for turning protein production on and off. But that wasn't the only difference between the various groups. Researchers also found one subgroup of Gulf War Illness patients saw their heart rate increase over 30 beats while standing for up to three days after exercising; the other subgroup required additional brain regions to complete a memory test following exercise. There is no settled-on diagnosis or treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome, which was considered psychosomatic until 2015. And the exact cause of Gulf War Illness remains unknown. (Read more chronic fatigue syndrome stories.)