The underlying sex differences in neuroendocrine adaptations relevant to Myalgic Encephalomyelitis Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Natalie Thomas, Caroline Gurvich, Katherine Huang, Paul R. Gooley, Christopher W. Armstrong

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) is a complex multisystem disease characterised by severe and disabling new-onset symptoms of post-exertional malaise (PEM), fatigue, brain fog, and sleep dysfunction that lasts for at least six months. Accumulating evidence suggests that sex and endocrine events have a significant influence on symptom onset and moderation of ME/CFS, with female sex being one of the most consistent and credible predictive risk factors associated with diagnosis. Such sex differences suggest sex chromosomes and sex steroids may play a part in the development of the condition or moderation of symptoms, although this has yet to be explored in detail. Methods/Aims: This narrative review outlines sex differences in ME/CFS in terms of vulnerability factors and clinical phenotype and explores the known sex differences in neuroendocrine systems affected in ME/CFS and how this may relate to disease risk, onset, pathophysiology, and potential treatment avenues. Conclusions: There is clear evidence of a sex dimorphism with regards to prevalence (3:1 female preponderance), clinical phenotypes, and aetiological triggers prior to symptom onset of ME/CFS. Endocrinological events, particularly those throughout the female lifespan, are associated with ME/CFS and include reproductive menstrual cycle fluctuations, pregnancy, post-partum and perimenopause. Further, there is evidence for gonadal sex, adrenal stress and renal neuroendocrine systems as implicated in ME/CFS, including changes in estrogen, progesterone compounds, aldosterone, and cortisol levels, of which there are established sex differences. The broad effects of steroid hormones on the physiological systems may also speak to the diversity of ME/CFS symptomatology observed in patients. Further attention must be paid to sex, age, and steroid biology in ME/CFS.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100995
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Neuroendocrinology
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Endocrine system
  • Estrogen
  • Hormones
  • Hypothalamus pituitary
  • Myalgic encephalomyelitis
  • Sex differences

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