Dysfunction of Natural Killer Activity in a Family With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome


Levine PH




Clin Immunol Immunopathol


A family was identified with 5 of 6 siblings and 3 other immediate family members who had developed chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) as adults. All 8 met criteria for the CFS case definition as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sixty-eight blood samples were obtained over a period of 2 years from 20 family members (8 affected, 12 unaffected) and 8 normal controls. All blood samples were tested for NK activity in 4-h 51Cr-release assays and for the number of circulating CD3-CD56(+) and CD3-CD16(+) by flow cytometry. NK activity of the affected immediate family members (cases, n = 8) was significantly lower (P = 0.006, two-sided) than that of the concurrently tested normal controls. The results for unaffected family members were intermediate between these two groups, and the pairwise comparison of unaffected family members to either cases or controls showed no statistically significant difference (P = 0.29, two-sided). No differences were seen between the groups in the absolute number of CD3-CD56(+) or CD3-CD16(+) lymphocytes in the peripheral blood. Familial CFS was associated with persistently low NK activity, which was documented in 6/8 cases and in 4/12 unaffected family members. In the family with 5 of 6 siblings who had documented CFS, 2 of their offspring had pediatric malignancies. Low NK activity in this family may be a result of a genetically determined immunologic abnormality predisposing to CFS and cancer.

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