Circadian rhythm disruption in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Implications for the post-acute sequelae of COVID-19

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Brain Behavior Immune Health. 2022 Jan 10;20:100412. doi: 10.1016/j.bbih.2022.100412. eCollection 2022 Mar.


Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) is a and disabling disorder primarily characterized by persistent fatigue and exercise intolerance, with associated disturbances, autonomic dysfunction, and cognitive problems. The causes of ME/CFS are not well understood but may coincide with immune and inflammatory responses following viral infections. During the current SARS-CoV2 coronavirus pandemic, ME/CFS has been increasingly reported to overlap with persistent “long COVID” symptoms, also called the post-acute of COVID-19 (PASC). Given the prominence of activity and problems in ME/CFS, circadian rhythm disruption has been examined as a contributing factor in ME/CFS. While these studies of circadian rhythms have been pursued for decades, evidence linking circadian rhythms to ME/CFS remains inconclusive. A major limitation of older chronobiology studies of ME/CFS was the unavailability of modern molecular methods to study circadian rhythms and incomplete understanding of circadian rhythms outside the brain in peripheral organ systems. Major methodological and conceptual in chronobiology have since been made. Over the same time, biomarker research in ME/CFS has progressed. Together, these new developments may justify renewed interest in circadian rhythm research in ME/CFS. Presently, we review ME/CFS from the perspective of circadian rhythms, covering both older and newer studies that make use of modern molecular methods. We focus on transforming growth factor beta (TGFB), a cytokine that has been previously associated with ME/CFS and has an important role in circadian rhythms, especially in peripheral cells. We propose that disrupted TGFB signaling in ME/CFS may play a role in disrupting physiological rhythms in sleep, activity, and cognition, leading to the insomnia, energy disturbances, cognition problems, depression, and autonomic dysfunction associated with ME/CFS. Since SARS-like coronavirus infections cause persistent changes in TGFB and previous coronavirus outbreaks have caused ME/CFS-like syndromes, chronobiological considerations may have immediate implications for understanding ME/CFS in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and possibly suggest new avenues for therapeutic interventions.

PMID:35465246 | PMC:PMC9019698 | DOI:10.1016/j.bbih.2022.100412

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