Between January 1991 and January 1993, 265 patients who fulfilled the CDC criteria of the working case definition of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) have been observed at our Institution and submitted for clinical and laboratory evaluation. One hundred and sixty-three patients were females and 102 males, the median age was 35 years (range 4-55 years); all patients reported profound and prolonged fatigue, lasting for a median of 3 years (range 6 months-10 years), preceded or accompanied at appearance by fever in 185 cases, and neuropsychologic problems including inability to concentrate, difficulty in thinking, confusion, irritability, forgetfulness, and depression. The fatigue was so severe that it required 102 patients to stop their working activities for a period of time ranging from 3 months to 2 years (range 7 months). In 40 consecutive patients a comprehensive immunologic testing by single and two-colour flow cytometry was performed and results compared with a group of 35 healthy, age- and sex-matched controls. Whilst no significant differences were found in the absolute numbers of circulating total T cells (CD3+) and of total helper/inducer (CD4+) or suppressor/cytotoxic (CD8+) T cells, an evident reduction in CD3-/CD16+ and CD57+/CD56+ NK lymphocytes along with an expansion of the CD8+/CD56+ and CD16-/CD56+ NK subsets, were found in the CFS group. In addition, CD56+ NK cells from CFS subjects were found to express an increased amount of cell adhesion molecules (CD11b, CD11c, CD54) and activation antigens (CD38). Both the percentage and absolute numbers of CD4+ T cells bearing the CD45RA antigen appeared significantly reduced in CFS patients, and CD4+ T lymphocytes from CFS subjects displayed an increased expression of the intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1/CD54). Finally, the total numbers of circulating (CD19+) B lymphocytes, were significantly higher in CFS cases than in controls, and in 11 out of 30 CFS patients the increase in circulating B cells was sustained by the expansion of the CD5+/CD19+ subset of B lymphocytes. We conclude that CFS is a syndrome not previously described in Italy, with already known clinical characteristics and appears to be associated with several immunologic abnormalities, including those reported previously in cohort of patients from different countries. We also show for the first time that CD56- NK cell subsets from CFS patients display an abnormally increased expression of cell adhesion molecules and activation markers.