A systematic review of natural killer cells profile and cytotoxic function in myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome

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Eaton-Fitch, N
Du Preez, S
Cabanas, H
Staines, D
Marshall-Gradisnik, S
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BACKGROUND: Compromised natural killer (NK) cell cytotoxic function is a well-documented and consistent feature of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). Other outcomes evaluated in NK cells of ME/CFS patients, however, remain equivocal. The aim of this study was to conduct a systematic review of the literature regarding NK cell phenotype, receptor expression, cytokine production and cytotoxicity in ME/CFS patients and determine the appropriateness as a model for ME/CFS. METHODS: Medline (EBSCOHost), Scopus, EMBASE and PubMed databases were systematically searched to source relevant papers published between 1994 and March 2018. This review included studies examining NK cells' features in ME/CFS patients compared with HC following administration of specific inclusion and exclusion criteria. Secondary outcomes included genetic analysis in isolated NK cells or quality of life assessment. Quality assessment was completed using the Downs and Black checklist in addition to The Joanna Briggs Institute checklist. RESULTS: Seventeen eligible publications were included in this review. All studies were observational case control studies. Of these, 11 investigated NK cell cytotoxicity, 14 investigated NK cell phenotype and receptor profiles, three examined NK cell cytokine production, six investigated NK cell lytic protein levels and four investigated NK cell degranulation. Impaired NK cell cytotoxicity remained the most consistent immunological report across all publications. Other outcomes investigated differed between studies. CONCLUSION: A consistent finding among all papers included in this review was impaired NK cell cytotoxicity, suggesting that it is a reliable and appropriate cellular model for continued research in ME/CFS patients. Aberrations in NK cell lytic protein levels were also reported. Although additional research is recommended, current research provides a foundation for subsequent investigations. It is possible that NK cell abnormalities can be used to characterise a subset of ME/CFS due to the heterogeneity of both the illness itself and findings between studies investigating specific features of NK function.

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Systematic Reviews

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© The Author(s). 2019 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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Biomedical and clinical sciences

Clinical sciences

Health sciences

Chronic fatigue syndrome


Myalgic encephalomyelitis

Natural killer cells

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Eaton-Fitch, N; Du Preez, S; Cabanas, H; Staines, D; Marshall-Gradisnik, S, A systematic review of natural killer cells profile and cytotoxic function in myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, Systematic Reviews, 2019, 8 (1), pp. 279: 1-279: 13