The pathobiology of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome: The case for neuroglial failure




Renz-Polster, Herbert
Tremblay, Marie-Eve
Bienzle, Dorothee
Fischer, Joachim E.

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Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience


Although myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) has a specific and distinctive profile of clinical features, the disease remains an enigma because causal explanation of the pathobiological matrix is lacking. Several potential disease mechanisms have been identified, including immune abnormalities, inflammatory activation, mitochondrial alterations, endothelial and muscular disturbances, cardiovascular anomalies, and dysfunction of the peripheral and central nervous systems. Yet, it remains unclear whether and how these pathways may be related and orchestrated. Here we explore the hypothesis that a common denominator of the pathobiological processes in ME/CFS may be central nervous system dysfunction due to impaired or pathologically reactive neuroglia (astrocytes, microglia and oligodendrocytes). We will test this hypothesis by reviewing, in reference to the current literature, the two most salient and widely accepted features of ME/CFS, and by investigating how these might be linked to dysfunctional neuroglia. From this review we conclude that the multifaceted pathobiology of ME/CFS may be attributable in a unifying manner to neuroglial dysfunction. Because the two key features – post exertional malaise and decreased cerebral blood flow – are also recognized in a subset of patients with post-acute sequelae COVID, we suggest that our findings may also be pertinent to this entity.


We acknowledge with gratitude the many and intense discussions about the pathobiological basis of ME/CFS on Twitter, to which innumerable experts, researchers, organizations, and – not to forget – patients contribute.


chronic fatigue syndrome, myalgic encephalomyelitis, neuroinflammation, glia, microglia, astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, blood brain barrier


Renz-Polster, H., Tremblay, M-E., Bienzle, D., & Fischer, J. E. (2022). The pathobiology of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome: The case for neuroglial failure. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, 16, 888232.