DNA Damage Discovered in Vets with Gulf War Illness

Scientists claim that they have discovered the first and direct biological evidence of sustain DNA damage to vets with Gulf War illness within certain cellular structures which generate energy within the body. These findings were posted in the September 2017 publication of PLOS One. A study which had focused on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) evaluated 21 veterans who had the Gulf War illness (GWI).

DNA Damage Discovered

During blood tests, scientists found more lesions and more mtDNA – which means they had additional genes copies — within veterans who have Gulf War illness, as compared to those without the illness, and this suggests excessive damage to their DNA. Lesion frequency provides a direct measure of damage to the DNA, and rise in the amount of mtDNA copies indicates a response to all this damage.

Both the amount of mtDNA copies and the frequency in lesions had varied as they responded to environmental toxins and together provided an indication of mitochondrial health in general, as reported by the lead scientist Dr. Mike Falvo, who is a specialist in health sciences from the Veterans Affairs Health Care System in New Jersey.

He pointed out that virtually everyone will experience some amount of mtDNA damage that is most likely because of aging and other environmental exposures, like air pollution. During this study, 20 percent more mtDNA damage was discovered within the veteran group, relative to the control group that contained three vets who did not have GWI and also four non-veterans.

“Greater mtDNA damage is consistent with mitochondrial dysfunction, which may contribute to symptoms of GWI, as well as persistence of this illness over time,” scientists posted. “We interpret these findings as evidence that mitochondrial dysfunction is involved in the pathobiology of GWI.”

New Lab Method Pays Off

Falvo reports that scientists used a new method which allows them to assess the overall quality of the mitochondrial DNA straight from total DNA without needing to separate the mitochondria. This method is easier to execute and without requiring analysis via a biopsy of some tissue, like skeletal muscle, he claims.

Even though Falvo and his associates were mainly interested in mtDNA, they looked additionally at the nuclear DNA, which is also critical, to mitochondrial health overall. The amount of damage to the nuclear DNA had also raised in these GWI afflicted veterans, but had not reached “statistical significance,” the scientists have reported. This could be a concern as damage to the nuclear DNA has been a big cause of cancer, , mitochondrial dysfunction, neurodegeneration, and other age-related diseases.

These mitochondria are organs that serve as spark plugs within our cells. They are sort of like digestive systems that absorb nutrients, then it breaks them down, and after that they create energy rich molecules and delivers them to the cell. They are extremely sensitive to any level of damage that have been created by toxins.

Those suffering from mitochondrial dysfunction typically have symptoms that involve multiple organ systems, mostly muscles and nerves. Veterans that have GWI have experienced similar symptoms. Several Gulf War veterans think they had been exposed to very harmful chemicals along with other toxins throughout the conflict.

“Mitochondrial dysfunction among veterans with GWI may help explain, in part, the persistence of this illness for over 25 years,” scientists involved in Falvo’s study have reported. “For example, chemical and environmental exposures during deployment may have provided the initial [harm] to mtDNA and accumulation of damage.”