April 20, 2006

Chronic fatigue may have genetic basis

By Megan Rauscher

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Results from the largest study
of chronic fatigue syndrome to date suggests that there are
specific genes and gene activity patterns that make some people
more prone to develop the disorder.

During a telebriefing Thursday, Dr. William C. Reeves, head
of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) research at the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said: "For the first
time ever, we have documented that people with CFS have certain
genes that are related to those parts of brain activity that
mediate the stress response and that they have different gene
activity levels."

He explained the gene patterns seen in these people "are
related to their body's ability to adapt to challenges and
stresses that occur throughout life, such as infections,
injury, trauma or adverse events."

By way of background, Reeves noted that CFS was first
recognized in the late 1980s and "we are still learning a lot
about it." The condition is characterized by medically and
psychiatrically unexplained symptoms that include fatigue,
problems with sleeping, memory and concentration, and pain.

At least one million Americans have the debilitating
disorder, and the costs to society are staggering. "The average
family in which someone suffers CFS forgoes about $20,000 a
year in lost earnings and wages," Reeves said.

The new findings, published in the medical journal
Pharmacogenomics, are based on 227 CFS patients who underwent
detailed clinical evaluations and extensive blood testing that
included an assessment of genetics and the activity level of
20,000 genes. The objective was to identify factors that could
have caused or be related to CFS.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC, said the results
of the study are "a very important step forward in the field of
chronic fatigue research."

CFS is a controversial topic, with some doctors thinking it
is a mental rather than physical condition. Gerberding noted
that "this is the first credible evidence of a biological basis
for chronic fatigue syndrome. It reflects the remarkable
confluence of a number of scientific advances really coming to
bear on a problem of great importance to many people around the
United States."

Knowing there is a biologic basis for CFS will help
researchers identify more effective ways to diagnose the
illness and come up with more effective treatments including
cognitive behavioral therapy, medications or a combination of

SOURCE: Pharmacogenomics, April 2006.