Study linking chronic fatigue syndrome with virus infection retracted

Another key study suggesting a link between a retroviral infection and chronic fatigue syndrome has been retracted.

The study published in the journal Science in October 2009, which found an association between the illness and a mouse leukemia retrovirus known as XMRV, was retracted last week by the editors of the journal.

On December 27, a paper by Shyh-Ching Lo, Harvey Alter, et al. (the Lo, Alter paper), published in August 2010 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has been retracted by the authors. Their paper reported finding human MLV-like retroviruses (members of the XMRV family) in 32 of 37 Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients and 3 of 44 healthy blood donors.

This second study was a support study to the idea that these pathogens were connected to chronic fatigue syndrome, but other researchers were not able to confirm such an association. Some scientists reported that XMRV itself had been created accidentally during laboratory procedures and that contamination of laboratory materials was widespread.

Randy Schekman, the former editor in chief of PNAS, said the journal had been “encouraging” the authors to reconsider their findings in light of subsequent research. “It is our current view that the association of murine gamma retroviruses with C.F.S. has not withstood the test of time or of independent verification and that this association is now tenuous,” wrote the authors.

A multi-center research team is now searching for evidence of murine gamma retroviruses or other viral involvement in 150 well-defined, geographically diverse chronic fatigue syndrome patient samples. The study, led by Columbia University’s “virus hunter,” Ian Lipkin, and sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) expects to have results some time in 2012. As Dr. Lipkin has suggested, CFS “smells like a viral disease,” and his lab will be using “next generation” genetic sequencing in the CFS study.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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