Biomarkers Associated with Extreme Exhaustion in Cancer Also Linked to Fatigue in Parkinson’s, Study Says

Iqra Mumal, MSc avatar

by Iqra Mumal, MSc |

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Biomarkers responsible for extreme exhaustion in cancer patients are also associated with fatigue in Parkinson’s disease, a study reveals.

The study, “Inflammation and fatigue in early, untreated Parkinson’s Disease,” was published in the journal Acta Neurologica Scandinavia.

Fatigue is one of the most common and disabling symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. According to studies, approximately 50 percent of patients develop clinically relevant fatigue, which is also associated with a lower quality of life.

“The No. 1 complaint among Parkinson’s disease sufferers is chronic fatigue,” Chris Fagundes, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Rice University and one of the study’s lead authors, said in a press release.

Studies have shown that a key mechanism behind fatigue is the activation of the inflammatory cytokine network — which consists of small molecules involved in immune responses called cytokines. These molecules work to promote inflammation.

High levels of inflammation can trigger the central nervous system to induce “sickness behaviors” — causing patients to suffer from fatigue. Neuro-inflammation — inflammation of the central nervous system — has been implicated in Parkinson’s disease.

Rice University researchers recruited 47 patients with newly diagnosed, untreated Parkinson’s with either high or low fatigue, according to the Fatigue Severity Scale (FSS). Of these patients, 23 had low fatigue, defined by FSS scores of less than or equal to 3, and 24 had high fatigue, with FSS scores greater than 5.5. Patients were then evaluated for a panel of 13 neuro-inflammatory markers.

Parkinson’s patients who experienced high fatigue had significantly higher levels of the inflammatory markers IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL1-Ra) and adhesion molecule VCAM-1 than patients who didn’t have fatigue.

“These findings highlight an altered immune response as a potential contributor to PD-related fatigue, from the earliest clinical stages of the disease,” the researchers wrote in the study.

High levels of both IL1-Ra and VCAM-1 were independently associated with disease severity, depression, cognition, and sleepiness. This suggests that these two biomarkers not only play a role in fatigue but also likely contribute to other Parkinson’s symptoms.

Because the mechanisms of cytokine-related fatigue are also prevalent in many cancers, similar biological mechanisms could be targeted across both diseases.

“This discovery may help health professionals to develop treatments that target the biological mechanisms underlying fatigue,” Fagundes said. “By targeting the biological mechanism rather than simply teaching patients how to cope with the symptoms, we could potentially alleviate fatigue in these patients.”

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