Blood biomarkers of chronic inflammation in Gulf War illness

Gerhard J. Johnson, Billie C.S. Slater, Linda A. Leis, Thomas S. Rector, Ronald R. Bach

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27 Scopus citations


Background: More than twenty years following the end of the 1990-1991 Gulf War it is estimated that approximately 300,000 veterans of this conflict suffer from an unexplained chronic, multisystem disorder known as Gulf War Illness (GWI). The etiology of GWI may be exposure to chemical toxins, but it remains only partially defined, and its case definition is based only on symptoms. Objective criteria for the diagnosis of GWI are urgently needed for diagnosis and therapeutic research. Objective: This study was designed to determine if blood biomarkers could provide objective criteria to assist diagnosis of GWI. Design: A surveillance study of 85 Gulf War Veteran volunteers identified from the Department of Veterans Affairs Minnesota Gulf War registry was performed. All subjects were deployed to the Gulf War. Fifty seven subjects had GWI defined by CDC criteria, and 28 did not have symptomatic criteria for a diagnosis of GWI. Statistical analyses were performed on peripheral blood counts and assays of 61 plasma proteins using the Mann-Whitney rank sum test to compare biomarker distributions and stepwise logistic regression to formulate a diagnostic model. Results: Lymphocyte, monocyte, neutrophil, and platelet counts were higher in GWI subjects. Six serum proteins associated with inflammation were significantly different in GWI subjects. A diagnostic model of three biomarkers - lymphocytes, monocytes, and C reactive protein - had a predicted probability of 90% (CI 76-90%) for diagnosing GWI when the probability of having GWI was above 70%. Significance: The results of the current study indicate that inflammation is a component of the pathobiology of GWI. Analysis of the data resulted in a model utilizing three readily measurable biomarkers that appears to significantly augment the symptom-based case definition of GWI. These new observations are highly relevant to the diagnosis of GWI, and to therapeutic trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0157855
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2016

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