Association of peripheral inflammatory markers with chronic fatigue in a population-based sample

Charles L. Raison, Jin Mann S. Lin, William C. Reeves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


Alterations in the innate immune response may contribute to the pathogenesis of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). However, studies have been limited by small sample sizes, use of patients from tertiary care settings, inappropriate selection of controls, and failure to control for confounding demographic, medical and behavioral factors independently associated with immune activity. It is also not known whether specific symptoms account for observed associations between CFS and the innate immune response. To address these limitations, the current study examined plasma concentrations of high-sensitivity c-reactive protein (hs-CRP), white blood cell count (WBC) and a combined inflammation factor in a large population-based sample. Log-transformed mean plasma concentrations of hs-CRP were increased in subjects with CFS (n = 102) and in subjects with unwellness symptoms that did not meet diagnostic criteria for CFS (defined as "insufficient fatigue" [ISF]) (n = 240) when compared to subjects who were well (n = 115). Log transformed WBC was increased in ISF and was increased at a trend level in CFS. The combined inflammation factor was increased in both CFS and ISF. Subjects with CFS and ISF did not differ on any of the inflammation measures. In the entire subject population, the physical component summary score (PCS), but not the mental component summary score (MCS), from the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form-36 (SF-36) was negatively associated with each of the inflammation measures. Depressive symptoms were also associated with increased log hs-CRP. After adjustment for age, sex, race, location of residence, BMI, depressive status and immune-modulating medications, subjects classified as ISF continued to demonstrate increased log hs-CRP, WBC and elevations on the inflammation factor when compared to well controls; however, associations between CFS and log hs-CRP and the inflammation factor were no longer statistically significant. After adjustment, PCS score also remained independently associated with each of the inflammation measures. These findings support a role for innate immune activation in unexplained fatigue and unwellness, but do not suggest that immune activation is specific to CFS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-337
Number of pages11
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Inflammation
  • Major depression
  • Population-based
  • Unwellness
  • c-reactive protein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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