Scientists identify cause of ‘Gulf War Syndrome’

(ORDO NEWS) — A new study has confirmed the hypothesis that the so-called Gulf War syndrome, which later manifested itself in the military, was a military-grade nerve agent.

For 30 years, scientists have been trying to determine the cause of the mysterious “Gulf War syndrome” – a complex of inexplicable and chronic symptoms that participants in this conflict are subject to.

Then, in the early 1990s, a coalition of 35 countries led by the United States opposed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and deployed about a million troops to the region.

A team of American researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, led by Professor Robert Haley, managed to confirm the hypothesis that the use of the nerve agent sarin, an isopropyl ester of methylphosphonic acid fluoride, which is colorless and odorless, is to blame.

The main actions of the Gulf War took place during operations ” Shield and the Cold ” (August 1990 – January 1991) and ” Desert Storm ” (January-February 1991).

After that, tens of thousands of people experienced symptoms such as fatigue, memory impairment and concentration, difficulty finding words, insomnia, diarrhea or constipation, tingling and numbness of the skin, imbalance and regulation of body temperature, dizziness attacks, severe somatic pain, sexual dysfunction, etc. Both direct participants in the fighting and auxiliary units suffered.

Clinical studies using neuroimaging, electroencephalography and tests of the autonomic nervous system have revealed abnormalities in the function of the brain and peripheral nervous system.

Experts have suggested various causes for this condition, ranging from stress, vaccination and the effects of burning oil wells to exposure to pesticides, depleted uranium, nerve gas and antidotes against it.

As a result, the authors of numerous studies managed to identify some statistical relationships, but none of the proposed hypotheses has received universal recognition.

In February 2021, Robert Haley and his colleagues published a paper that reported that after testing the urine of 150 United States Army veterans for the presence of uranium isotopes, nothing of the kind was found in the samples.

Recall that the core of a number of shells that the US Armed Forces used during Desert Storm was made from uranium-238.

According to Haley, as early as 1995, all signs indicated that the military had survived exposure to a nerve agent, but it took many years to get “irrefutable evidence.”

“In the first published epidemiological study of environmental risk factors, completed four years after the war, our group found the strongest associations of ‘Gulf War Syndrome’ with self-reported organophosphorus nerve agent exposure and adverse drug effects against the action of a nerve gas containing pyridostigmine bromide carbamate.

To try to explain why only a subset of those exposed to these substances developed the syndrome, we conducted a study.

And they found that the “Gulf War Syndrome” has an inverse relationship with the activity of the Q isoenzyme of the serum enzyme paraoxonase 1(PON1), a known genetic determinant of susceptibility to cholinesterase-inhibiting organophosphate chemicals, including nerve agents.

As the scientists explain, PON1 hydrolyzes paraoxon and diazoxone, active metabolites of the insecticides parathion and diazinon, respectively, as well as poisonous substances such as sarin and soman. Each person is a carrier of two copies of the PON1 gene, which gives the genotype QQ, RR or QR.

The Q variant generates a blood enzyme that efficiently breaks down Sarin, while the R variant helps the body break down other chemicals but is ineffective at hydrolyzing Sarin.

Sarin was originally developed as a pesticide, but then began to be used in chemical weapons (its toxicity to humans precludes use as a pesticide). In 1997, a convention signed by 162 UN member states came into force: it prohibited the production and stockpiling of any chemical weapons, including sarin.

Its main combat state is vapors capable of spreading downwind at a distance of up to 20 kilometers from the place of application (depending on weather conditions).

The substance can enter the body through the skin or inhalation and affect the nervous system. At high concentrations, sarin often leads to death, at low levels it leads to long-term brain damage.

The US military claimed that poisonous substances, including sarin, were found in Iraq during the Gulf War. In particular, in the spring of 1991, satellite images captured a large mushroom cloud that rose from the Iraqi ammunition depot in Khamisiya – it was bombed by US and coalition aircraft – and then covered the ground positions of American and allied forces.

The destruction of the warehouse is believed to have resulted in the release of nerve agents (sarin and cyclosarin ) into the atmosphere. Although the combatants themselves claimed to have been exposed to sarin, critics of this version considered their testimony to be biased.

However, as Prof. Haley points out, the new study is revolutionary because its results are not based on mere memories. The scientists analyzed data from 508 veterans who suffered from the “Gulf War Syndrome” and 508 veterans who did not have symptoms of the condition.

Blood samples were taken from the participants: serum and plasma were divided into aliquots, and leukocytes were analyzed for DNA. Veterans also shared their memories of the war.

The samples were then tested for PON1 gene variants. “As expected, Gulf War syndrome was significantly more common in veterans with the R allele (RR or QR genotypes) and in individuals with lower serum Q isoenzyme activity – a pattern consistent with increased susceptibility to nerve agents,” the report said. researchers.

They found a link between the syndrome and whether the combatants heard chemical alarms: in such cases, people with the QQ genotype increased the risk by 3.75 times, in carriers of the QR genotype – by 4.43 times, and RR – by 8, 91 times.

Soldiers with the RR genotype and low levels of Sarin exposure were more than seven times more likely to experience “Gulf War Syndrome” due to the interaction itself, over and above the increased risk from both factors acting separately.

According to genetic epidemiologists, this indicator reflects a high degree of confidence that sarin really caused the development of this syndrome.

“So far, more than 100,000 Gulf War veterans are not being treated for this disease, and we hope our findings will accelerate the search for a better treatment,” Haley said.

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