We examined 100 symptomatic Gulf War veterans (patients) and 100 controls for immunologic assays. The veterans and controls were compared for the percentage of T cells (CD3); B cells (CD19); helper:suppressor (CD4:CD8) ratio; natural killer (NK) cell activity; mitogenic response to phytohemagglutin (PHA) and pokeweed mitogen (PWM); level of immune complexes; myelin basic protein (MBP) and striated and smooth muscle autoantibodies; and antibodies against Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), HSV-2, human herpes Type 6 (HHV-6), and Varicella zoster virus (VZV). The percentage of T cells in patients versus controls was not significantly different, whereas a significantly higher proportion of patients had elevated T cells compared with controls. The percentage of B cells was significantly elevated in the patients versus the controls.
The NK cell (NK) activity was significantly decreased in the patients (24.8 +/- 16.5 lytic units) versus the controls (37.3 +/- 26.4 lytic units). The percentage of patients with lower than normal response to PHA and PWM was significantly different from controls. Immune complexes were significantly increased in the patients (53.1 +/- 18.6, mean +/- SD) versus controls (34.6 +/- 14.3). Autoantibody titers directed against MBP and striated or smooth muscle were significantly greater in patients versus controls. Finally, the patients had significantly greater titers of antibodies to the viruses compared with the controls (p < 0.001). These immune alterations were detected 2-8 years after participation in the Gulf War. The immune alterations are consistent with exposure to different environmental factors. We conclude that Gulf War syndrome is a multifaceted illness with immune function alterations that may be induced by various factors and are probably associated with chronic fatigue syndrome.