This study was conducted to evaluate the immunological response to an exhaustive treadmill exercise test in 20 female chronic fatigue syndrome patients compared to 14 matched sedentary controls. Venipuncture was performed at baseline and 4 min, 1 hr, and 24 hr postexercise. White blood cells were labeled for monoclonal antibody combinations and were quantified by FACsan. Cytokines were assayed utilizing quantitative RT/PCR. No group difference was seen in VO2peak (28.6 +/- 1.6 vs 30.9 +/- 1.2 ml.kg-1.min-1; P > 0.05). However, 24 hr after exercise the patients' fatigue levels were significantly increased (P < 0.05). The counts of WBC, CD3+ CD8+ cells, CD3+ CD4+ cells, T cells, B cells, natural killer cells, and IFN-gamma changed across time (P's < 0.01). No group differences were seen for any of the immune variables at baseline or after exercise (P's > 0.05). The immune response of chronic fatigue syndrome patients to exhaustive exercise is not significantly different from that of healthy nonphysically active controls.