Association of circulating biomarkers with illness severity measures differentiates myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome and post-COVID-19 condition: a prospective pilot cohort study

J Transl Med. 2024 Apr 10;22(1):343. doi: 10.1186/s12967-024-05148-0.


Background: Accumulating evidence suggests that autonomic dysfunction and persistent systemic inflammation are common clinical features in myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and long COVID. However, there is limited knowledge regarding their potential association with circulating biomarkers and illness severity in these conditions.

Methods: This single-site, prospective, cross-sectional, pilot cohort study aimed to distinguish between the two patient populations by using self-reported outcome measures and circulating biomarkers of endothelial function and systemic inflammation status. Thirty-one individuals with ME/CFS, 23 individuals with long COVID, and 31 matched sedentary healthy controls were included. All study participants underwent non-invasive cardiovascular hemodynamic challenge testing (10 min NASA lean test) for assessment of orthostatic intolerance. Regression analysis was used to examine associations between outcome measures and circulating biomarkers in the study participants. Classification across groups was based on principal component and discriminant analyses.

Results: Four ME/CFS patients (13%), 1 with long COVID (4%), and 1 healthy control (3%) presented postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) using the 10-min NASA lean test. Compared with matched healthy controls, ME/CFS and long COVID subjects showed higher levels of ET-1 (p < 0.05) and VCAM-1 (p < 0.001), and lower levels of nitrites (NOx assessed as NO2- + NO3-) (p < 0.01). ME/CFS patients also showed higher levels of serpin E1 (PAI-1) and E-selectin than did both long COVID and matched control subjects (p < 0.01 in all cases). Long COVID patients had lower TSP-1 levels than did ME/CFS patients and matched sedentary healthy controls (p < 0.001). As for inflammation biomarkers, both long COVID and ME/CFS subjects had higher levels of TNF-α than did matched healthy controls (p < 0.01 in both comparisons). Compared with controls, ME/CFS patients had higher levels of IL-1β (p < 0.001), IL-4 (p < 0.001), IL-6 (p < 0.01), IL-10 (p < 0.001), IP-10 (p < 0.05), and leptin (p < 0.001). Principal component analysis supported differentiation between groups based on self-reported outcome measures and biomarkers of endothelial function and inflammatory status in the study population.

Conclusions: Our findings revealed that combining biomarkers of endothelial dysfunction and inflammation with outcome measures differentiate ME/CFS and Long COVID using robust discriminant analysis of principal components. Further research is needed to provide a more comprehensive characterization of these underlying pathomechanisms, which could be promising targets for therapeutic and preventive strategies in these conditions.

Keywords: Biomarkers; Chronic fatigue syndrome; Endothelial dysfunction; Inflammation; Long COVID; Myalgic encephalomyelitis; Post-acute sequelae of COVID-19; Post-exertional malaise.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • COVID-19*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Patient Acuity
  • Pilot Projects
  • Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome
  • Prospective Studies


  • Biomarkers