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Whole blood human transcriptome and virome analysis of ME/CFS patients experiencing post-exertional malaise following cardiopulmonary exercise testing.

Abstract

Myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a syndrome of unknown etiology characterized by profound fatigue exacerbated by physical activity, also known as post-exertional malaise (PEM). Previously, we did not detect evidence of immune dysregulation or virus reactivation outside of PEM periods. Here we sought to determine whether cardiopulmonary exercise stress testing of ME/CFS patients could trigger such changes. ME/CFS patients (n = 14) and matched sedentary controls (n = 11) were subjected to cardiopulmonary exercise on 2 consecutive days and followed up to 7 days post-exercise, and longitudinal whole blood samples analyzed by RNA-seq. Although ME/CFS patients showed significant worsening of symptoms following exercise versus controls, with 8 of 14 ME/CFS patients showing reduced oxygen consumption ([Formula: see text]) on day 2, transcriptome analysis yielded only 6 differentially expressed gene (DEG) candidates when comparing ME/CFS patients to controls across all time points. None of the DEGs were related to immune signaling, and no DEGs were found in ME/CFS patients before and after exercise. Virome composition (P = 0.746 by chi-square test) and number of viral reads (P = 0.098 by paired t-test) were not significantly associated with PEM. These observations do not support transcriptionally-mediated immune cell dysregulation or viral reactivation in ME/CFS patients during symptomatic PEM episodes.

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