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Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2017 May;61:36-46. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2017 Mar 9.

Screening for novel central nervous system biomarkers in veterans with Gulf War Illness.

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Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC, United States. Electronic address:
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, United States.
Division of Gastroenterology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, United States.
Department of Global Health and Social Development, Harvard Medical School, United States; Department of Environmental Health, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA, United States.
Department of Microbiology, Zagazig University, Zagazig, Egypt.
Department of Math and Computer Science, Menoufia University, Shebin ElKom, Egypt.
Department of Biostatistics & Bioinformatics, Duke University Medical Center, United States.
Biomedical Engineering Department, Duke University, United States.


Gulf War illness (GWI) is primarily diagnosed by symptom report; objective biomarkers are needed that distinguish those with GWI. Prior chemical exposures during deployment have been associated in epidemiologic studies with altered central nervous system functioning in veterans with GWI. Previous studies from our group have demonstrated the presence of autoantibodies to essential neuronal and glial proteins in patients with brain injury and autoantibodies have been identified as candidate objective markers that may distinguish GWI. Here, we screened the serum of 20 veterans with GWI and 10 non-veteran symptomatic (low back pain) controls for the presence of such autoantibodies using Western blot analysis against the following proteins: neurofilament triplet proteins (NFP), tubulin, microtubule associated tau proteins (Tau), microtubule associated protein-2 (MAP-2), myelin basic protein (MBP), myelin associated glycoprotein (MAG), glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), calcium-calmodulin kinase II (CaMKII) and glial S-100B protein. Serum reactivity was measured as arbitrary chemiluminescence units. As a group, veterans with GWI had statistically significantly higher levels of autoantibody reactivity in all proteins examined except S-100B. Fold increase of the cases relative to controls in descending order were: CaMKII 9.27, GFAP 6.60, Tau 4.83, Tubulin 4.41, MAG 3.60, MBP 2.50, NFP 2.45, MAP-2 2.30, S-100B 1.03. These results confirm the continuing presence of neuronal injury/gliosis in these veterans and are in agreement with the recent reports indicating that 25years after the war, the health of veterans with GWI is not improving and may be getting worse. Such serum autoantibodies may prove useful as biomarkers of GWI, upon validation of the findings using larger cohorts.


Autoantibodies; Brain injury; Cytoskeletal proteins; Gulf War Illness; Serum biomarkers

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