[Note: The following press release was distributed Jan 11 via from the Japanese news site Daily Yomiuri Shimbun. We have not yet identified a journal article or other publication further detailing the study.* Meanwhile, others argue that ME/CFS patients often test low in alpha-MSH, not high, so details will be welcome.]
Researchers have discovered a protein in blood that can be used to diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome, a breakthrough that could help detect the ailment during physical checkups.
There are diagnostic criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome - a disorder involving extreme fatigue of unknown cause that continues for at least six months - that rely primarily on subjective symptoms, but there have been no objective markers such as blood tests.
The research team led by Hiroshi Kiyama, a professor of anatomy [in the Graduate School of Medicine] at Osaka City University, examined the intermediate lobes of the pituitary glands of rats in which they induced extreme fatigue by making them exercise for five consecutive days. They found that the lobes excreted extraordinarily high amounts of a protein called alpha-MSH and that alpha-MSH levels in the animals' blood also increased.
The neurotransmitter dopamine inhibits the secretion of alpha-MSH, but the rats' ability to produce dopamine declined as their fatigue grew.
The group also tested the levels of alpha-MSH in the blood of 57 people diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and the blood of 30 healthy people.
The average level among the 37 people who had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome less than five years before was about 50 percent higher than in the healthy people.
Source: Daily Yomiuri Shimbun (Japan) press release Jan 11, 2009