Circulating miRNAs Expression in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Int J Mol Sci. 2023 Jun 24;24(13):10582. doi: 10.3390/ijms241310582.


Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a complex multifactorial disease that causes increasing morbidity worldwide, and many individuals with ME/CFS symptoms remain undiagnosed due to the lack of diagnostic biomarkers. Its etiology is still unknown, but increasing evidence supports a role of herpesviruses (including HHV-6A and HHV-6B) as potential triggers. Interestingly, the infection by these viruses has been reported to impact the expression of microRNAs (miRNAs), short non-coding RNA sequences which have been suggested to be epigenetic factors modulating ME/CFS pathogenic mechanisms. Notably, the presence of circulating miRNAs in plasma has raised the possibility to use them as valuable biomarkers for distinguishing ME/CFS patients from healthy controls. Thus, this study aimed at determining the role of eight miRNAs, which were selected for their previous association with ME/CFS, as potential circulating biomarkers of the disease. Their presence was quantitatively evaluated in plasma from 40 ME/CFS patients and 20 healthy controls by specific Taqman assays, and the results showed that six out of the eight of the selected miRNAs were differently expressed in patients compared to controls; more specifically, five miRNAs were significantly upregulated (miR-127-3p, miR-142-5p, miR-143-3p, miR-150-5p, and miR-448), and one was downmodulated (miR-140-5p). MiRNA levels directly correlated with disease severity, whereas no significant correlations were observed with the plasma levels of seven pro-inflammatory cytokines or with the presence/load of HHV-6A/6B genome, as judged by specific PCR amplification. The results may open the way for further validation of miRNAs as new potential biomarkers in ME/CFS and increase the knowledge of the complex pathways involved in the ME/CFS development.

Keywords: HHV-6A; HHV-6B; biomarkers; chronic fatigue syndrome; microRNA; myalgic encephalomyelitis.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Circulating MicroRNA* / genetics
  • Cytokines
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic* / diagnosis
  • Herpesvirus 6, Human* / genetics
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs* / genetics


  • Circulating MicroRNA
  • MicroRNAs
  • Cytokines
  • Biomarkers
  • Mirn140 microRNA, human
  • MIRN448 microRNA, human