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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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U researcher helps explain chronic fatigue

By Deborah Rafferty

Alan Light’s new research into what causes fatigue has done anything but exhaust him.

Excited over the findings in his work, he animatedly described the intricacies of all the genes splashed across the cover of the Journal of Pain that published his findings. The more a person exercises, the more a newly understood gene everyone has tells the body’s muscles they are too tired to keep working8212;some to a debilitating degree, he said.

“It is surprising at the half-hour mark how much the gene increases in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome,” said Light, an anesthesiology research professor, pointing to the differences between normal patients and patients with the disorder.

This research will allow patients with CFS to better understand what is happening to them and hopefully prove to the scientific world that it is an actual disease, not an excuse for what can be percieved as lazy behavior. It will also give physicians a test to determine if patients have CFS and how to provide proper treatment to help them get better.

Light and his team of researchers identified a number of genes that increase during exercise in a ground-breaking discovery8212;especially for patients with CFS. These genes produce a protein, which tells the muscles they are tired and to stop exercising.
The experiments were first conducted using mouse models. However, the problem with the mice is that they cannot tell you whether they are in pain or are tired.

In human trials, Light had two separate groups8212;people with and without CFS8212;do a simple arm and leg movement exercise for 25 minutes, which takes the same amount of energy as walking up stairs, Light said. Then they drew white blood cells from the patients at various points during the next 24 hours.

For the normal group, the patients had little trouble doing the exercise. However, the patients with CFS had extreme difficulty even finishing. Light said patients with CFS have trouble having enough energy to do everyday tasks and often do not leave the house. It’s as though someone is screaming at you, and after a while, you stop listening, Light said.
“Imagine that you have really beaten yourself doing an exercise you haven’t done in a while,” Light said. “Imagine what you feel like the next day. Now imagine feeling like that all the time. That’s what patients with CFS feel like.”

After analyzing the data from the trials, Light and his researchers found that exercise increases the amount of the proteins that tell the muscles they are tired. Normal patients show very little change, but in patients with CFS there is a tremendous amount of proteins, which could explain why the patients are tired all the time, Light said. Most of the genes Light identified were sensory, which tell the brain what the rest of the body is feeling.
For Light, the research has only just begun. He would like to analyze more what fatigue is and the difference between mental and physical fatigue. However, testing mental fatigue would be difficult because researchers could not extract brain cells because the cells do not grow back.

“What is fatigue? To most of the world, it is a sensation, something a little like pain,” Light said. “It makes you want to stop what you are doing. Fatigue is a system in place to protect us from overusing our body and brain to prevent irreversible damage.”

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Lennie Mahler

Alan Light, a research professor in the anesthesiology department, explains recent findings about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients.

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