The significance of oxidative stress in the pathophysiology of Long COVID and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS)

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Max Oliver Mackay Walker Katherine H Hall Katie Peppercorn Warren Perry Tate


Long COVID is now well accepted as an ongoing post-viral syndrome resulting from infection of a single virus, the pandemic SARS-CoV-2. It mirrors the post-viral fatigue syndrome, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a global debilitating illness arising mainly from sporadic geographically-specific viral outbreaks, and from community endemic infections, but also from other stressors. Core symptoms of both syndromes are post-exertional malaise (a worsening of symptoms following mental or physical activity), pervasive fatigue, cognitive dysfunction (brain fog), and sleep disturbance. Long COVID patients frequently also suffer from shortness of breath, relating to the lung involvement of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. There is no universally accepted pathophysiology, or recognized biomarkers yet for Long COVID or indeed for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Clinical case definitions with very similar characteristics for each have been defined. Chronic inflammation, immune dysfunction, and disrupted energy production in the peripheral system has been confirmed in Long COVID and has been well documented in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.     Neuroinflammation occurs in the brain in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as shown from a small number of positron emission tomography and magnetic resonance spectroscopy studies, and has now been demonstrated for Long COVID. Oxidative stress, an increase in reactive oxygen and reactive nitrogen species, and free radicals, has long been suggested as a potential cause for many of the symptoms seen in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, resulting from both activation of the brain’s immune system and dysregulation of mitochondrial function throughout the body. The brain as a high producer of energy may be particularly susceptible to oxidative stress. It has been shown in peripheral immune cells that the balanced production of proteins involved in regulation of the reactive oxygen species in mitochondria is disturbed in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Fluctuations in the chronic low level neuroinflammation during the ongoing course of Long COVID as well as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome have been proposed to cause the characteristic severe relapses in patients. This review explores oxidative stress as a likely significant contributor to the pathophysiology of Long COVID and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and the mechanisms by which oxidative stress could cause the symptoms seen in both syndromes. Treatments that could mitigate oxidative stress and thereby lessen the debilitating symptoms to improve the life of patients are discussed.

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WALKER, Max Oliver Mackay et al. The significance of oxidative stress in the pathophysiology of Long COVID and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS). Medical Research Archives, [S.l.], v. 10, n. 9, sep. 2022. ISSN 2375-1924. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 19 may 2024. doi:
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