Gulf War syndrome is real, explained by NMR study

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  • Published: Mar 28, 2014
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: NMR Knowledge Base
thumbnail image: Gulf War syndrome is real, explained by NMR study

Gulf War syndrome is real, say US scientists, who have linked the condition with mitochondrial dysfunction in the cells. Beatrice Golomb and colleagues from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine used phosphorus-31 NMR spectroscopy to show that Gulf War veterans exhibiting signs of Gulf War Syndrome, also called Gulf War Illness, have damaged energy recovery mechanisms in their cells.

It has been estimated that 25-33% of all US Gulf War servicemen developed symptoms ascribed to Gulf War Illness, that’s about 175,000-250,000. The problems were many, including fatigue, muscle pain, shortness of breath and behavioural problems. The condition was exacerbated by the lack of official recognition of the condition and many personnel remain sufferers 23 years after the war.

Golomb suspected that the cell metabolism plays a key role in the illness because many soldiers were exposed to chemicals, such as nerve agents and pesticides, which inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase. This, in turn could lead to mitochondrial dysfunction, which would affect energy production in the cells.

To investigate this possibility, they measured the levels of phosphocreatinine in the cells of seven Gulf War veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness following exercise. Levels of this compound fall during exercise and build up again during recovery, but that recovery is slowed down by mitochondrial dysfunction.

Writing in Plos One, the research team reported that it took longer for the phosphocreatinine levels to recover in the veterans than it did in the same number of control subjects. The difference was notable, with no overlap of the recovery times, pointing strongly to mitochondrial dysfunction. This explanation accounts for many features of Gulf War Illness.

"The classic presentation for mitochondrial illness involves multiple symptoms spanning many domains, similar to what we see in Gulf War illness. These classically include fatigue, cognitive and other brain-related challenges, muscle problems and exercise intolerance, with neurological and gastrointestinal problems also common," said Golomb.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for mitochondrial disease at present but the findings will help clinicians to understand the basis behind the disorder.

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