Chronic fatigue syndrome, the immune system and viral infection

Brain Behav Immun. 2012 Jan;26(1):24-31. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2011.06.016. Epub 2011 Jul 2.


The chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), as defined by recent criteria, is a heterogeneous disorder with a common set of symptoms that often either follows a viral infection or a period of stress. Despite many years of intense investigation there is little consensus on the presence, nature and degree of immune dysfunction in this condition. However, slightly increased parameters of inflammation and pro-inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin (IL) 1, IL6 and tumour necrosis factor (TNF) α are likely present. Additionally, impaired natural killer cell function appears evident. Alterations in T cell numbers have been described by some and not others. While the prevalence of positive serology for the common herpes viruses appears no different from healthy controls, there is some evidence of viral persistence and inadequate containment of viral replication. The ability of certain herpes viruses to impair the development of T cell memory may explain this viral persistence and the continuation of symptoms. New therapies based on this understanding are more likely to produce benefit than current methods.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Cytokines / physiology
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / drug therapy
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / immunology*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / virology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / immunology*
  • Immune System / virology*
  • Immune System Diseases / complications
  • Immune System Diseases / immunology
  • Immunologic Memory / physiology
  • Immunomodulation
  • Immunotherapy
  • Killer Cells, Natural / physiology
  • T-Lymphocytes / physiology
  • Virus Diseases / complications
  • Virus Diseases / immunology*


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Cytokines