Stress-Induced Transcriptomic Changes in Females with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Reveal Disrupted Immune Signatures

Int J Mol Sci. 2023 Jan 31;24(3):2698. doi: 10.3390/ijms24032698.


Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a chronic, complex multi-organ illness characterized by unexplained debilitating fatigue and post-exertional malaise (PEM), which is defined as a worsening of symptoms following even minor physical or mental exertion. Our study aimed to evaluate transcriptomic changes in ME/CFS female patients undergoing an exercise challenge intended to precipitate PEM. Our time points (baseline before exercise challenge, the point of maximal exertion, and after an exercise challenge) allowed for the exploration of the transcriptomic response to exercise and recovery in female patients with ME/CFS, as compared to healthy controls (HCs). Under maximal exertion, ME/CFS patients did not show significant changes in gene expression, while HCs demonstrated altered functional gene networks related to signaling and integral functions of their immune cells. During the recovery period (commonly during onset of PEM), female ME/CFS patients showed dysregulated immune signaling pathways and dysfunctional cellular responses to stress. The unique functional pathways identified provide a foundation for future research efforts into the disease, as well as for potential targeted treatment options.

Keywords: chronic fatigue syndrome; dysregulated immune pathways; myalgic encephalomyelitis; post-exertional malaise; transcriptomics.

MeSH terms

  • Exercise / physiology
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic* / diagnosis
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic* / genetics
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transcriptome