Objectives: To determine mRNA expression differences in genes involved in signalling and modulating sensory fatigue, and muscle pain in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia syndrome (FM) at baseline, and following moderate exercise.
Design: Forty-eight patients with CFS only, or CFS with comorbid FM, 18 patients with FM that did not meet criteria for CFS, and 49 healthy controls underwent moderate exercise (25 min at 70% maximum age-predicted heart rate). Visual-analogue measures of fatigue and pain were taken before, during and after exercise. Blood samples were taken before and 0.5, 8, 24 and 48 h after exercise. Leucocytes were immediately isolated from blood, number coded for blind processing and analyses and flash frozen. Using real-time, quantitative PCR, the amount of mRNA for 13 genes (relative to control genes) involved in sensory, adrenergic and immune functions was compared between groups at baseline and following exercise. Changes in amounts of mRNA were correlated with behavioural measures and functional clinical assessments.
Results: No gene expression changes occurred following exercise in controls. In 71% of patients with CFS, moderate exercise increased most sensory and adrenergic receptor's and one cytokine gene's transcription for 48 h. These postexercise increases correlated with behavioural measures of fatigue and pain. In contrast, for the other 29% of patients with CFS, adrenergic α-2A receptor's transcription was decreased at all time-points after exercise; other genes were not altered. History of orthostatic intolerance was significantly more common in the α-2A decrease subgroup. FM-only patients showed no postexercise alterations in gene expression, but their pre-exercise baseline mRNA for two sensory ion channels and one cytokine were significantly higher than controls.
Conclusions: At least two subgroups of patients with CFS can be identified by gene expression changes following exercise. The larger subgroup showed increases in mRNA for sensory and adrenergic receptors and a cytokine. The smaller subgroup contained most of the patients with CFS with orthostatic intolerance, showed no postexercise increases in any gene and was defined by decreases in mRNA for α-2A. FM-only patients can be identified by baseline increases in three genes. Postexercise increases for four genes meet published criteria as an objective biomarker for CFS and could be useful in guiding treatment selection for different subgroups.
© 2011 The Association for the Publication of the Journal of Internal Medicine.